The margin of error for any pitcher in the big leagues is slim and even more so when their offense is trudging through one of its worst run-scoring slumps of the season.
Max Scherzer nearly had enough to overcome that on Tuesday night, as the Nats ace was perfect through 4 2/3 innings and took a no-hitter into the seventh. But small, uncharacteristic mistakes made the difference and led to his seventh loss of the season, this a tough-luck defeat.
Scherzer's only real mistakes came in that seventh inning when he gave up two runs, one of them earned. He had Franicsco Lindor at two strikes before the Indians All-Star smacked a single up the middle. Scherzer can live with that. What happened next, though, may keep him up at night.
With Jose Ramirez at the plate, Scherzer spun around for a pickoff attempt at first and sailed the throw to far to Daniel Murphy's right. It skipped into foul territory and give Lindor enough time to go all the way to third.
That set up an RBI double by Ramirez to put the Indians up 1-0.
"I know Lindor's a very good base runner. We had just picked over previously. I showed my B move, then tried to come with a little quicker move," Scherzer explained. "That's something that can't happen. I have to be in control of that. I can't throw the ball away. Murph has no shot at catching that ball. It's just something that I messed up, and that cost me the game."
Lindor's run went down as unearned because an error allowed him to advance, even though it was Scherzer's mistake. The earned run he gave up was after Ramirez stole third and then scored on a single by Lonnie Chisenhall.
Scherzer was removed after that seventh inning and finished with just three hits and one walk allowed. He struck out 10 batters for the 10th time this season.
Those were just some of the highlights of a game that was mostly a very good one for Scherzer. It was the eighth time he's taken a no-hitter into at least the sixth inning in his 57 starts for the Nats. He's completed the task twice before and this time he was again thinking about going the distance.
"Once you make it through six, you got a shot. I threw the ball really well tonight. It was the little things that beat me," he said.
Scherzer has had many battles with the Indians in the past, but not since 2014, his last season with the Detroit Tigers. They have given him some trouble over the years, particularly with lefty-heavy lineups.
This time, though, Scherzer could utilize his cut-slider which he's improved since leaving Detroit. He says it's now a gamechanger:
"It's completely changed how I can approach the left-handed lineup. I won't lie. Three years ago, when I had to face the Indians, they load up nine lefties, I knew I was going to be in for a night. I knew it was uncomfortable pitching against that. I've really evolved as a pitcher since then. I've gotten better, the fact that I can use my curveball now, and the cut-slider gives me four pitches I can throw at left-handed hitters and really keep everything different multiple times through the lineup. That allows me, when I face a team like the Indians and the left-handed power that they have, to really combat that and really go out there with a plan to execute pitches multiple times through the lineup."
Scherzer has now gone at least seven innings in seven of his last eight starts with just nine total earned runs allowed during that stretch. On Tuesday, he lowered his season ERA to 2.80, just one tick away from the career-best 2.79 mark he compiled last year.
The Nats' offense may be lagging behind, but Scherzer is pitching his best ball of the season as the pennant race is close to heating up.
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