PHILADELPHIA — Max Scherzer did not throw another no-hitter in Friday night’s 5-2 win over the Phillies, and only in the context of his remarkable stretch of dominance could that qualify as a regression.
He was not perfect Friday night, his bid for history extending to one out in the sixth inning before Freddy Galvis’s line-drive double. He did not throw a shutout, allowing a run in the seventh that immediately qualified Friday as the worst outing in his past three starts. Perhaps Scherzer’s recent dominance is best measured by expectations, which he has set so high that allowing two runs in eight innings with seven strikeouts could feel like a letdown.
The Nationals backed Scherzer to his 100th career win despite injuries, late scratches and early exits. They won for the seventh straight time to improve to 41-33. They won despite the end of the second-longest scoreless streak a starting rotation has ever compiled, which ended at 48 innings when Domonic Brown doubled home Cesar Hernandez in the seventh.
Baseball buzzed all week about Friday evening’s matchup, about the potential for no-hit history. Many believed there was a good chance Johnny Vander Meer would soon have company in the back-to-back no-hit club, which has been a one-member association since 1938.
The Phillies’ lineup is the least productive in the majors, on pace by some counts for one of the worst offensive seasons in major league history. Manager Ryne Sandberg resigned unexpectedly before Friday’s game at a pop-up news conference held as his team took grounders on the field, unaware of the developments — a strange scene played out by a team in disarray. A streaking playoff contender with a solid lineup, the Pirates, succumbed to Scherzer last weekend. The Phillies seemed doomed.
Scherzer had not previously faced the Pirates or Brewers. Friday was the fourth time this season he faced the Phillies. While his slider devastated the Pirates in the no-hitter, Scherzer relied more heavily on his curveball and change-up Friday, changing his approach to get familiar results against hitters better acclimated to his stuff. The Phillies’ lineup was stacked with six left-handed hitters, yet Scherzer took a perfect game into the sixth inning for the third straight start. No one has done that since Doyle Alexander in 1976.
“It’s just complete comfort, dominance, throwing the ball where he wants to throw it,” Nationals Manager Matt Williams said. “Fifty-four batters between hits is pretty good.”
In the sixth, Scherzer hung a curveball to Galvis, who doubled down the right field line to break that streak.
“Eventually, I was gonna run kind of out of luck there,” said Scherzer, who admitted to some disappointment. “It’s just something where you just move on.”
Two batters and a strikeout later, he was through six scoreless innings.
“Off the bat you’re like ‘Oh, wow, that’s a hit. That doesn’t happen much,’ ” right fielder Matt den Dekker said. “I haven’t been around a pitcher in my time in the big leagues that’s as focused as he is when he goes out and pitches, and I think that makes us all want to play better.”
Scherzer’s personal scoreless streak ended at 24
“Again another outing with no walks. That’s what you pride yourself on,” Scherzer said.
The Nationals’ lineup is riddled with holes, injured to the point that just three of eight players projected to start for the Nationals did so Friday, two at their intended positions. By the end of the first inning, two starters remained. Phillies starter Aaron Harang hit Yunel Escobar square on the left hand with an 0-2 pitch. He took first base but did not come out for the bottom of the inning. Preliminary X-rays on the hand were negative.
Michael A. Taylor, leading off because Denard Span was a late scratch with back spasms, had two hits and scored two runs. Scherzer singled in the fifth inning, his sixth straight start with a hit. Den Dekker, a late addition to the lineup, hit his first home run of the season in the sixth in his first Nationals start. As usual, five runs were plenty for Scherzer, who was asked whether outings like these now feel automatic.
“Oh my God, no,” Scherzer said. “Those guys are good. This is tough. Now you’re in divisional opponents. Now they’re getting a look after you. The margin for error shrinks even more.”
For the first time in three starts, Scherzer’s opponent outhit him. For the first time in three starts, he did not finish the game, giving way to Drew Storen for a scoreless ninth to earn his 22nd save. Scherzer’s ridiculousness ended for now. His ERA skyrocketed to 1.79 — the second-lowest mark among starters in the majors.
More on the Nationals and baseball:
Jerry Brewer: Scherzer not perfect, but he’s pretty close
Nationals Journal: Rendon goes on DL with strained quad
Fancy Stats: Nationals can survive without Rendon
Nationals Journal: Burris called up by hometown team
Fancy Stats: Kershaw’s struggles aren’t all his fault