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Scherzer on his start, chocolate sauce & Harper-Miggy

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Scherzer on his start, chocolate sauce & Harper-Miggy

Through his first eight games as a Washington National, Max Scherzer is off to the best start of his career by several measures.

His ERA is a pristine 1.75, good for fourth in the National League. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 8.25, over double his career average of 3.49. He's tied for third in the majors with 66 strikeouts and leads the league in FIP (2.02).

He's even more efficient than ever with an average of 13.9 pitches per inning, down from over 16.5 the year before. That's allowing him to last longer in each of his outings, as the right-hander has pitched at least seven innings in seven of his eight total starts.

Scherzer says the fun is just getting started. He is new to the NL and has worked that to his advantage. Now comes the hard part: staying one step ahead as the league makes adjustments.

"The hitters are trying to get a feel for me and I'm trying to get a feel for them. Right now I'm just going out there and attacking them, pounding the zone with the fastball and seeing what they are trying to do off of that. I can tell the league is already trying to make adjustments. I've had more first batters of the game going up there and swinging at the first pitch than I think I've had in my whole career. It's stuff like that where the cat-and-mouse game is starting to come out. That's the fun part," he said.

Scherzer has impressed both his manager, Matt Williams, and general manager Mike Rizzo with his attention to detail and preparation in between starts.

"He just competes so much. In every aspect, the preparation he puts in is just remarkable," Rizzo said. "He prepares from the time he leaves his start for his next start."

Scherzer explained his routine in an interview with CSN Washington:

"Once we get the next team in, I at least take a glance at [scouting reports] to see what they are going to do. Before we face a team before that series, I like to have an idea what I should be looking at and how I should be attacking their hitters. So when I'm out there watching the game and watching our guys go at it, I pitch with our pitchers. I try and guess what's coming next. I work on my instincts on what's the best sequence for this situation. Every situation is different. You wouldn't use the same sequence with no runners on that you would with runners in scoring position. I'm always constantly working on my instincts and what are the right pitches in the right situation," he said.

Scherzer is not only leading by example for the Nationals, his impact goes beyond personal statistics. He has helped younger players on the team and not only pitchers. Bryce Harper, for instance, has received advice from Scherzer on how to approach counts and what types of things annoy pitchers during at-bats.

"I've talked to [Scherzer] a bunch of times about it. When you're taking pitches on the inside half and they're one or two inches off and they're calling it a ball, you know that makes the pitcher freak out a little bit," Harper explained earlier this month.

Scherzer has also helped Harper with making adjustments.

"Just understanding what the game is dictating, understand what's going on. Understand what the most successful thing a pitcher can do towards you," Scherzer said. "You can have your strengths all that you want. But you also have to respect what the other side of the game is doing. That's where you're going to get into that paper-scissors-rock moment. You're not guessing, but you're anticipating things. You're anticipating things that are going to give you your biggest success. When you're able to to those things in those situations, that's the next-level stuff that I think he's capable of."

Scherzer has been very impressed with what Harper has done so far, playing at an MVP-pace and all, but we're talking about a guy who played five years with Miguel Cabrera, arguably one of the best hitters to ever play the game. Scherzer sees potential in Harper to reach Cabrera's level, but it will take time.

"From what we've seen from Bryce, he's really swinging the bat well. The thing is, Miggy does it every year and in all parts of the year. He's done it for five years in a row. That's the separator here, is the consistency over a long period of time. I think Bryce, what he's doing right now, he's doing phenomenal stuff at the plate. But pitchers are going to start adjusting to him. That's the biggest thing that's going to happen here. Pitchers are going to start trying to do different things in different sequences. Everybody's going to try and find a way to get him out. It's going to be fun to see how Bryce handles that. I think he's going to handle it, but you gotta watch him do it.

"That's the cool part of being in the dugout with a player like him. You start seeing guys approach him differently and how he handles it. That's the fun part of the game and that's what I got to see with Miggy. When guys started pitching him differently, how does he handle it. The way he handled it was unbelievable. He was patient and understood what was going on. I saw guys throw 3-1 slider down and away to Miggy and he's sitting on that pitch hitting it opposite field, knowing they were going to do that. It's that next-level stuff that he can do that we'll see if Bryce can do that or not. That's going to be the fun part to watch," he said.

Though Scherzer has been brilliant on the mound himself, he likes to keep it light in the clubhouse and in his interactions with teammates. He is now well-known for introducing a new postgame celebration where players get doused in Hershey's chocolate sauce. Hershey's even sent the Nationals over 100 bottles of the ice cream topping to help the cause.

"Chocolate sauce is the perfect topping for ice cream, so might as well top off a game and give that person in the on-the-field camera interview a little something to taste," Scherzer explained.

Scherzer has been the distributor of chocolate so far, but his teammates are now looking for an opportunity to return the favor.

"I hope he throws a no-hitter, or something extraordinary, so we can get him," Denard Span said. "But we've got to come a little more clever than chocolate syrup. We might have to throw some nuts on him, some whipped cream, a cherry, everything."

Williams has known Scherzer for years dating back to their time with the Arizona Diamondbacks and says the right-hander hasn't changed one bit. He's still going to make his teammates laugh on his off-days and pitch lights out when his name is called.

"Four days out of five it's fun-loving, it's occasionally quirky, but on the fifth day it's business. He separates that real well," Williams said.

Keeping it fun is important to Scherzer, who believes it is necessary for baseball players during a long 162-game season.

"You have to. With 162 games, man, this is a marathon. Every single day you have to bring it. That's the beauty of this sport," he said.

"Football, don't get me wrong, it's a great sport. You play it 16 times a year and you have to go absolutely crazy for those games. But you don't practice baseball, you play baseball. You have to play it every single day and 162 games a year. That's the challenge of our sport is to mentally do this every single day. It can grind on you, it can wear on you. So if you can have moments where you can bring some humor and some jokes around the clubhouse, you have to because when you're in between the lines it's a grind."

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

Remember Jim Riggleman, the infamous Nats manager that resigned from the position back in 2011 after a win against the Seattle Mariners? Well he's back in a managerial position.

Bryan Price was fired as manager of the Cinncinati Reds Thursday, after the team started the 2018 season 3-15. Riggleman, who spent four seasons as their bench coach, was named the interim manager to replace Price.

Riggleman was promoted to interim manager of the Nats in July of 2009, after Manny Acta was let go midseason. He stayed on as manager for 2010 and 2011, and he then resigned from the team on June 23, 2011 after a win agaisnt the Seattle Mariners. He had lead the team to a win in 11 of their last 12 games prior to stepping away.

The reason behind the dramatic exit was due to the organization not yet picking up his 2012 contract option. He had reportedly requested a conversation with the front office about his future with the organization, and was upset after they declined. At 58 years-old, he felt he deserved more respect.

He's been with the Reds organization since 2012, and has spent time managing the Padres, Cubs and Mariners, in addition to the Nationals. His career winning pct. with each team has been below-.500.

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes launched a grand slam during a nine-run outburst in the eighth inning that rallied the New York Mets past the Washington Nationals 11-5 on Wednesday night, preventing a three-game sweep.

Todd Frazier tied it at 4 with a two-run single and pinch-hitter Juan Lagares put New York ahead for the first time with a two-run double off ineffective setup man Ryan Madson (0-2).

Shut down by Tanner Roark for seven innings, the first-place Mets broke loose in the eighth and improved to 13-4 with a stirring victory against their NL East rivals.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, tripled and drove in four runs for the Nationals, who pulled off their own big comeback in the eighth inning of the series opener.

Two nights later, New York returned the favor.

Roark limited the Mets to two hits and left leading 4-2. Michael Conforto, Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera singled off Madson to load the bases with nobody out in the eighth. Jay Bruce fouled out before Frazier smacked a two-run single up the middle and advanced to second on the throw home.

After an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez loaded the bases again, pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores struck out. Lagares then lined a two-run double the other way, just inside the right-field line at the outer edge of the infield grass, to put the Mets up 6-4.

Sammy Solis walked Amed Rosario and Conforto to force in a run. Cespedes connected for his sixth career slam -- the third by the Mets already this season -- off A.J. Cole, sending fans into a frenzy.

Both of Cespedes' hits in the inning came on 0-2 pitches.

AJ Ramos (1-1) worked a perfect inning for his first win with the Mets since being acquired from Miami last July.

Howie Kendrick reached on an infield single for Washington in the first and Bryce Harper drew his 24th walk, most in the majors. Zimmerman, batting .121 at that point and struggling to make opponents pay for bypassing Harper, came through with a drive to left-center off Steven Matz for his second home run of the season.

Matz steadied himself after a 33-pitch first inning and retired his final 10 batters. He was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fourth after throwing 74 pitches.

Cabrera doubled to open the fourth and scored on Gonzalez's single. Zimmerman had a chance to start an inning-ending double play, but his throwing error from first base allowed another run to score on Jose Lobaton's RBI grounder as the Mets cut it to 3-2.

After Mets pitchers retired 16 in a row, Zimmerman's leadoff triple in the seventh got past a diving Bruce in right field, and Moises Sierra followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.

Zimmerman also hit a solo homer in the ninth.