Don’t tell Max Scherzer that the Nationals are out of the playoff hunt.
In a showdown of Cy Young Award candidates, the Nationals ace took a no-hitter into the fifth inning on a windy, sunny Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park against the Philadelphia Phillies.
But Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera hit a two-run homer to right field off Scherzer in the seventh to spearhead a 2-0 victory, salvaging the finale of the three-game set. It was the 12th time this year the Nationals had been blanked, the second-most of any National League team.
The last five losses by Scherzer have come when the Nationals scored no runs, and the club has scored just one run in his six losses this year.
Herrera’s 20th homer of the season came on an 89-mph cutter on a 1-0 delivery from Scherzer (16-6), who lost for the first time since early July. Maikel Franco walked with one out and then scored on the homer.
It was the first loss for Scherzer to the Phillies since he joined the Nationals. He gave up two runs in seven innings with 10 strikeouts and a season-high four walks before Wander Suero took over in the eighth.
Aaron Nola (15-3), the Phillies starter, allowed no runs and five hits in eight innings with nine strikeouts. Sidearmer Pat Neshek pitched the ninth for the visitors.
Nola, who entered the game with an ERA of 2.24 this year, kept the Nationals off-balance with an assortment of off-speed pitches to go with his fastball. Mark Reynolds doubled in the seventh off Nola but Wilmer Difo lined out to the warning track in left to end the inning.
Adam Eaton doubled with two outs and Trea Turner drew a walk off Nola in the eighth. That brought up Bryce Harper, who fanned on a 95-mph fastball up in the zone.
The first hit Scherzer allowed Thursday was a hard shot by Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro that bounced off Nationals shortstop Trea Turner in the fifth. The play was ruled a hit by the official scorer.
Prior to this season, Scherzer had taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning in 11 of his 98 starts with the Nationals a ratio of nearly 11 percent. A two-time Cy Young Award winner in the National League, Scherzer tossed a pair of no-hitters in his first season with the Nationals in 2015.
Scherzer was 8-0 in his first 13 starts against the Phillies since he came to Washington. The Nationals were 12-1 in those games.
The St. Louis native leads the league in win and strikeouts, with 234. He had not lost a game since July 2, in a 1-0 setback at home to the Boston Red Sox and he was 6-0 in his eight previous starts.
Washington (64-64) began the day 7.5 games back of the first-place Atlanta Braves and is now 5.5 games behind the second-place Phillies in the National League East. In the wild-card race the Nationals were trailing St. Louis (71-57), Milwaukee (71-58), Colorado (69-57), the Phillies (69-58) and Los Angeles (67-61).
The Nationals won the first two games of the series, with Ryan Zimmerman hitting his 11th career walk-off homer in the last of the ninth Wednesday for an 8-7 victory. Manager Dave Martinez said Zimmerman was sore and didn’t start Thursday, with Reynolds getting the nod at first.
Needing a sweep to gain real ground, the Nationals begin a series Friday night in New York against the Mets. Veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez (7-10, 4.51) will start against the Mets and will be opposed by lefty Jason Vargas, who is 3-8 with an ERA of 7.67.
The other starting pitchers in the series for the Nationals are right-hander Tanner Roark (8-12, 4.05) on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. and rookie righty Jefry Rodriguez (1-1, 5.46) on Sunday at 1:10 p.m.
Roark said the Nationals will miss Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams, who were traded Tuesday. Infielder Murphy was dealt to the Cubs while first baseman/left fielder Adams went to the Cardinals.
“I still feel we have a great clubhouse, and we still have a chance,” Roark said. “We are just going to keep playing ... the old clich of one game at a time. We have to win every series.”