This would have been impressive for any pitcher, on any night, in any game including the best baseball players in the world.
Then add in a broken nose and you get Max Scherzer, willing his way to seven scoreless innings, walking off the mound just as the sky faded to black Wednesday, his pitching line covered in strikeouts and his face covered in bruises. Scherzer dominated the Philadelphia Phillies just 26 hours after he suffered a broken nose on a failed bunt attempt in batting practice. He exited with a slim lead, the Washington Nationals held on for a 2-0 victory, and they swept a doubleheader and are now in third place in the National League East.
And that happened because their ace struck out 10, went toe-to-toe with Phillies starter Jake Arrieta and, when he could have sat, pushed himself all the way to 117 pitches. And Scherzer did that with a fracture that has hardly healed. Somehow, some way, the 34-year-old found a new way to separate himself.
“This is just going to be part of what you got to do. You take the ball every fifth time,” Scherzer said by his locker after the game. There was a note taped to the wall to his right. It read: If you bunt tonight … PLEASE do us all a favor and wear this. An N.C. State football helmet, a gift from shortstop Trea Turner, was at his feet.
They could joke about it then. Their ace was more than okay.
The Nationals began the day with a convincing 6-2 win, riding a strong start from Patrick Corbin and rolling past the Phillies with home runs by Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra. But it was hard to watch that game — or even think about that game — without wondering whether Scherzer would pitch later.
This is, after all, the pitcher who once gutted through Game 3 of the National League Division Series on a bum hamstring. It’s the pitcher who screamed “No!” at Manager Dave Martinez when he considered pulling Scherzer in mid-May. It’s the pitcher who, when told he can’t do something, clenches his teeth, narrows his eyes and maybe lets his lips curl into the slightest grin. Full-tilt is his default setting. That’s how he thrives.
This wasn’t a matter of whether he would make the start. It was a matter of what he would look like doing it.
“Never,” Scherzer said when asked whether there was any consideration to sit. “Even when it happened, I was joking with [head athletic trainer Paul Lessard], and I was like, ‘If this happened in a game, I’d still want to pitch.’ ”
Before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, when Scherzer emerged from the home dugout to warm up, he had not been seen in public since the injury. He had left the field with a towel pressed against his face, blood dripping onto the white cloth, Lessard trailing him closely. Off-site tests revealed the break. A CT scan showed no further neurological damage. Scherzer told Martinez he could pitch — even pantomiming his motion in the manager’s office Tuesday night — and the decision came down to two questions: Would his breathing be restricted? And would the swelling spread across his face?
His breathing was fine. His right eye didn’t get so lucky. As Scherzer readied in right field, throwing invisible pitches with a scowl, cameras only caught flashes of his face. He had a black-and-blue speck above his left cheek, a little bruising on the bridge of his nose and otherwise looked fine beneath the brim of his hat. Then he turned toward the field and into the sun, and the damage showed. There was a plum-colored bruise, shaped like a flattened oval, shining when touched by light. And the area around his right eye, where the ball smacked into him Tuesday, was shaded a dull maroon.
It was, really, a fitting game face for Scherzer, for the type of player he is, for the pitcher who has been a human metronome since he joined the Nationals in 2015. Grab the ball every fifth day. Carve through opposing lineups. Sink back into detailed preparation, running sprints in the outfield, ripping through thick packets of scouting reports. Then do it again.
Wednesday was no different.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain today was a zero,” Scherzer said. “Going out there and throwing, the only thing I had to deal with was the swelling underneath the eye. It was kind of jiggling around.”
So there he was at 7:05 p.m., rocking into his delivery, picking his way through the Phillies one helpless batter at a time. He often says pitching is a blend of science and art — the art in each delivery and the science in the video and analytics that break batters down. But this didn’t fit in either category. This was a mix of will and stubbornness and more than a few teaspoons of insanity. This was Scherzer’s legend outdoing itself.
He worked through a long third inning and, shortly after, punched out four consecutive batters between the fourth and fifth. Cesar Hernandez led off the seventh with a double off the right field wall, putting the tying run in scoring position. But Scherzer struck out Brad Miller on a full count with a 98-mph fastball, on his 108th pitch, and set down Andrew Knapp swinging on his 113th.
Next came pinch hitter J.T. Realmuto, and Scherzer worked ahead in the count 1-2 before the noise elevated around him. His bottom lip quivered. The crowd stood and chanted, “Let’s go Max!” He got Realmuto to chase a slider in the dirt, spun around on the mound and clapped his glove as he let out a scream. He then skipped down the dugout steps and slapped every high-five in his way, as if he still had loads of energy left — and he probably did after lowering his ERA to 2.62.
“Well, I hate to kind of undercut it by any means,” said Dozier, and his next line spoke volumes about the man on the mound. “But we expect that from him.”
The Nationals, by night’s end, had nudged ahead on homers by Dozier and Victor Robles. Wander Suero threw a perfect eighth in relief. Sean Doolittle finished off the win with a breezy save. Yet it all revolved around Washington’s best pitcher, the one with the broken nose, the one who took the ball — the one who begged for the ball — because there was no other option but that.
— Jesse Dougherty
Nationals starter Max Scherzer suffered a broken nose (and a pretty gruesome looking black eye) during batting practice Tuesday, yet he still was able to make his scheduled start in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Phillies. Nationals reporter Sam Fortier covered the scene as the game unfolded:
Wrapping up a command performance
With a broken nose and a black eye, Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer threw seven scoreless innings Wednesday night, striking out 10. It was not his most dominant performance — he received few quick outs and showed uncharacteristic struggles with command — but he took the ball and grinded through it anyway. The right-hander delivered his team exactly what it needed. When he departed after the seventh, the Nationals had scored only one run, but it didn’t matter. Scherzer had been better; he hadn’t allowed any.
Finishing the seventh and fired up
For the first time since the first, Scherzer faced real trouble. Hernandez led off the seventh with a double to right-center and Scherzer’s pitch count kept climbing.
The starter ran the next batter, Miller, up to a full count, but whiffed him with a 98-mph, letter-high fastball on his 107th pitch. The next batter, Knapp, swung through a high, 97-mph fastball too for strike three on the 113th pitch. When the pinch hitter, J.T. Realmuto, swung-and-missed at a 97-mph fastball for the second strike, the Nationals Park crowd rose to its feet. Then, after all the heat, Scherzer deked.
On his 117th pitch, the right-hander threw a slider low and away which Realmuto missed. Scherzer spun on the mound and flexed. His catcher, Kurt Suzuki, pumped his fist and mirrored the spin behind the plate as he ran toward the dugout, where a standing ovation awaited Scherzer. He had struck out 10 for the 88th time in his career but, most importantly, walked off the diamond having thrown up all zeros.
Scherzer as visibly expressive at calls as he’s been all season
In the sixth inning, in his third matchup against Harper, Scherzer thought he struck out his old teammate on 2-2 but home-plate umpire Ramon De Jesus said he missed away. Scherzer stiffened. On the next pitch, he issued Harper’s second walk in three plate appearances.
Two batters later, Scherzer got Hoskins to ground back to him and started what could’ve been an inning-ending double play. But the relay from Dozier was just too late and Hoskins tied the throw. Scherzer threw his hands above his head and trudged back to the mound, where he popped up Bruce to end the inning. He’s up to 97 pitches.
Meanwhile, his most die-hard fans are still showing the love.
Despite his high pitch count, Scherzer batted for himself to lead off the home half of the sixth. At the plate, he made Arrieta work hard but, on the sixth pitch, he lined out to Harper in right.
The further Scherzer goes, the better he looks
In the fifth, the Nationals ace got his first 1-2-3 inning of the outing, striking out Knapp and Arrieta with an 84-mph change-up and an 84-mph slider, respectively. He got Segura to pop into foul territory toward first baseman Matt Adams to end the inning. The frame also put him back on track, the eight pitches bringing his total count to 76 through five.
Cruising through the fourth
Scherzer had his most efficient inning of the outing in the fourth. He needed 12 pitches to work around a Bruce “hit,” which amounted to a topped groundball down the third-base line which beat the shift. Scherzer sandwiched that unfortunate spin with a Hoskins fly out to center and two strikeouts, the second one of which came against Miller with a 98-mph fastball.
Avoiding the bunt
In his first at-bat, Scherzer did not need to bunt because the inning’s leadoff hitter, center fielder Victor Robles, popped out. He grounded out to third and surprised no one by hustling out the routine grounder.
Scherzer laboring a bit, but getting results
Few quick outs. This has been the mantra of Scherzer’s start so far. In the third, he struck out Phillies starter Jake Arrieta and Segura popped out to first but ran into trouble against Harper. He brought the heat — Scherzer hit 98 mph on the gun twice — but walked him on six pitches. He punched out Kingery too, but his pitch count had climbed to 52.
Navigating some trouble
The second inning looked like it could be quick for Scherzer. He got Phillies left fielder Jay Bruce to fly out to center on the first pitch. He jumped ahead of second baseman Cesar Hernandez 0-2. Then, uncharacteristically, he struggled with command.
Scherzer threw three straight balls to Hernandez before coming back to get him to ground out to third on the seventh pitch of the at-bat. He jumped ahead of third baseman Brad Miller, too, before two straight balls forced him to come over the plate with a cutter, which Miller knocked into center for a single. He threw three straight balls to catcher Andrew Knapp too, but got him to fly to left. It wasn’t vintage Scherzer, but it was enough.
Scherzer no worse for wear
In the first inning, Max Scherzer brought the juice. His average fastball velocity hit 96.5 mph after sitting at 94.8 this season entering the game.
The Nationals ace allowed a leadoff single to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura but limited the damage there. He fired up the crowd when he blew a 97-mph fastball past Phillies right fielder and former teammate Bryce Harper early in the at-bat.
Then Scherzer got Harper to fly to left, center fielder Scott Kingery to ground and stranded Segura at third when he struck Rhys Hoskins out on an 88-mph slider. In four batters, he’d answered the question.
“They want to know if I still got it”
At 7:03 p.m., Scherzer took the mound for a few warm-up pitches and his anthem, “Still D.R.E.” blared from the speakers. Usually, the bass line was enough to pump up a crowd intent on seeing one of the game’s best pitch. This time, though, the lyrics offered insight: “They want to know if I still got it.”
Just after 6:30, Max Scherzer appeared in the bullpen to warm up. It was the first time anyone had seen him since he'd broken his nose the day before. TV cameras caught the Nationals ace throwing and, when he turned his face just enough, the dark circle underneath his right eye shone from underneath his ball cap.
Afterward, Scherzer ran into deep right field to toss with bullpen catcher Octavio Martinez. Someone else might’ve hyped up the moment for drama. Most probably wouldn’t have pitched at all. But Scherzer was there, doing what he always did, going through his routine as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
After the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, starter Patrick Corbin considered what Scherzer was about to do. The day before, he’d walked into the clubhouse, saw Scherzer on the training table and rerouted directly to the video room to see the bunt which ricocheted and broke Scherzer’s nose. Corbin shook his head, started and stopped once. Then again.
“I feel like it only it could happen to him,” he said. “He’s got a nice shiner there. He’ll be ready to go. You guys know Max.”
Max Scherzer, broken nose and all, will start for the Washington Nationals against the Philadelphia Phillies at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at Nationals Park. Manager Dave Martinez made the announcement following the Nationals’ 6-2 win to kick off the day-night doubleheader, and it should come as no surprise.
“Other than his eye, he’s good,” Martinez said around 4 p.m. “He’s got a nice shiner.”
Scherzer broke his nose Tuesday while bunting during batting practice. The ball bounced off his bat and hit him on the right side of the face, leaving him bleeding and with a towel pressed to his face. He got off-site tests that night — with a CT scan revealing no further damage — and his short-term status was thrown into the air. The Nationals could have gone with Erick Fedde or Austin Voth, the latter up as their 26th man for the doubleheader, but instead reached for simpler logic: Scherzer is able to pitch, so he’s going to.
Martinez was unsure as of Wednesday afternoon whether Scherzer would need to wear a mask or any protective gear.
Scherzer, the Nationals’ 34-year-old ace, began lobbying to start this game almost immediately after the injury occurred. He met with Martinez in the manager’s office Tuesday night and told him, “Expect me to pitch tomorrow.” He prepared Wednesday morning as if it were any other day he was starting, and he was instructed to call head athletic trainer Paul Lessard when he woke up. The concerns were that the break could restrict his breathing or lead to additional swelling to both sides of his face.
Now Scherzer has a chance to add to his legend and keep the Nationals on a roll.
“Just wanted to make sure that he was good,” Martinez said of what showed the Nationals that Scherzer was ready to pitch. “He came in, we just saw him, and he’s good.”
After rainouts Monday and Tuesday night, Patrick Corbin paced the Nationals to their third win in four games Wednesday afternoon. At the start of the week, before the rain came and Scherzer broke his nose, Washington had Corbin, Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg lined up to face Philadelphia in this critical series. That has been restored, if the rain holds off Wednesday evening, with Scherzer on the mound for the second game and Strasburg scheduled to start the finale Thursday night.
Scherzer has been dominant in his five starts since May 22, posting a 3-0 record and 1.06 ERA in 34 innings. He is working himself back into the NL Cy Young Award conversation, after a few spotty outings in April and early May, and was always adamant about staying on schedule with Wednesday’s start. The Nationals could have plugged in Voth or Fedde and given Scherzer an extra day or two of rest. Instead they chose to put their ace on the mound.
“It’s his turn in the rotation,” Martinez said. “And if he’s good, he’s good. So he’s going to be out there for as long as we can have him out there.”
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