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Nationals’ bullpen gets in the way of another Max Scherzer start

May 27, 2019

Like on so many other occasions this season, the Washington Nationals wasted another Max Scherzer start.

After the Nationals’ ace left Monday’s game following the sixth inning with only one run allowed, Washington’s bullpen gave up two runs and the Nationals fell 3-2 against the Miami Marlins.

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Nationals, who failed to sweep one of the worst teams in baseball.

The Nationals entered Monday just 2-9 in Scherzer’s starts this season, but few could blame the 34-year-old. Although Scherzer’s 3.74 ERA was his worst since 2014, the three-time Cy Young winner still had the second-most strikeouts in the league with 96 through 71⅓ innings. He also had a career-best 2.35 FIP, a metric that measures a pitcher’s effectiveness at preventing home runs and walks while recording strikeouts.

The Nationals, though, had failed to capitalize on Scherzer’s performances blowing games with a lack of run support and a shaky bullpen. In Scherzer’s 11 previous starts, Washington failed to score more than three runs in nine of them.

Scherzer’s last start was particularly emblematic of this problem. On May 22 in New York, Scherzer pitched six scoreless innings only for closer Sean Doolittle to surrender six runs in a 6-1 loss against the Mets.

“Our biggest thing is to go out there and try and score first for him,” manager Dave Martinez said before the game, “and kind of ease everything, not feel like he has to go out there and pitch a shutout.”

Martinez noted the Nationals had been swinging the ball well as of late, so he hoped the team’s offense would carry over for Scherzer. In Washington’s first three wins of the series, the Nationals scored 12, five and nine runs respectively.

But to start, the Nationals had trouble solving Marlins starter Jose Urena on Monday.

Urena used a variety of two-seam fastballs, change-ups and sliders to keep the Nationals at bay. Through the first four innings, Washington recorded only two hits.

Miami’s batters, meanwhile, took an aggressive approach with Scherzer, as most hitters tend to do. They often attacked the first pitch a game plan that led Neil Walker driving in Garrett Cooper on an RBI single to right for the game’s first run.

Washington, though, bounced back in the fifth. Second baseman Brian Dozier hit a sacrifice fly to score catcher Kurt Suzuki, who got on base with a walk and advanced to third on a Gerardo Parra double. Then, it was Scherzer of all hitters to score the go-ahead run. The pitcher connected on a two-seamer and Parra slid into home for the Nationals to take a 2-1 lead.

Yet, the game changed when Martinez pulled Scherzer after six innings.

Reliever Tanner Rainey came in to start the seventh and immediately walked his first batter in Miguel Rojas a costly mistake. Miami’s Harold Ramirez later forced a groundout, allowing Rojas to score. The Nationals could have also avoided the run if they were able to turn Ramirez’s ground out into a double play, but shortstop Trea Turner wasn’t able to turn one in time.

Kyle Barraclough made matters worse in the eighth. After loading the bases with just one out, the 29-year-old reliever left a four-seam fastball too high in the strike zone and Rojas connected enough to pop up a sacrifice fly that scored Starlin Castro.

The Nationals had a key opportunity to take the game or at the very least, tie the game in the eighth with the bases loaded, but Juan Soto popped out to end the inning.

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