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Nationals bullpen finds a new way to lose a game

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Nationals bullpen finds a new way to lose a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-5, Tuesday to drop their record to 19-29. Here are five observations from the game…

1. They gave the lead back in the seventh, then again in the eighth before losing in the ninth. You know who “they” is.

A three-run homer run off Wander Suero provided the first shot against the Nationals’ league-worst bullpen. Suero threw a curveball to pinch-hitter J.D. Davis, who is hitting .429 against breaking pitches this year, and Davis hit it into the right-field stands. Not only is Davis potent against breaking pitches, but the curveball is also Suero’s worst pitch. He was beat on a curveball in the ninth inning April 14 to lose the lead. Afterward, in April, manager Davey Martinez said he was surprised by the pitch call. Yan Gomes was calling pitches that game, too. Yet, they called it Tuesday night, despite the dual emphatic counters to why that’s a good pitch in that situation.

“He got two big strikeouts with it,” Gomes said of the selection. “We were trying to expand the zone with it and just when you leave pitches up to good hitters, they're going to do some damage to it. I think [leaving pitches up] can beat anybody. We were trying to expand the zone, we left up just enough for him to hit it and J.D. did what he did. He's a good hitter and he made us pay for it.”

The Nationals rallied for two runs in the eighth to again take the lead back. Trea Turner doubled to drive in a run. Juan Soto followed with a double. Washington led, 5-4.

Matt Grace came in. He retired Robinson Cano in a lefty-lefty matchup. Hard-throwing Tanner Rainey entered to face Mets stud rookie Pete Alonso, who entered the game with 15 home runs. His 16th soared just inside the foul pole -- according to an on-field call then “inconclusive” crew chief replay review -- four pitches later. Tie game.

Both relievers failed in their execution. Suero didn’t want his pitch up. Rainey did. Neither hit the proper spot.

Rainey remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth. He walked two after picking up an out. He left. Kyle Barraclough entered. His first pitch was a broken-bat bloop toward Brian Dozier. He intentionally let it drop to try to trick the Mets into a double play. Instead, it produced an out at second.

Amed Rosario hit a one-hop grounder to shortstop. He beat the throw to first for a walk-off infield single. You read that right.

So, the line for second-guessing starts at Rainey’s initial entrance with one out in the eighth inning, when the Nationals held a 5-4 lead. Why didn’t Barraclough pitch there to hold the lead and set up Sean Doolittle for the ninth?

“I liked the matchup with Rainey, with the velocity and his slider,” Martinez said. “For me, the matchup was … and he got ahead. He just didn’t get the ball up.”

Rainey returned to the mound to start the ninth. Barraclough, who has allowed seven of eight inherited runners to score this season, could have started the inning. Instead, he came in with runners on base, then lost the game. It should be noted nothing was hit hard against Barraclough. However, the outcome was the outcome.

Also, should Turner have charged the grounder to try for a short hop against the fleet Rosario?

“Decision either stay back and catch it and make a hard throw or run and kind of make a do-or-die play,” Turner said. “I guess looking back at it, you try the other one since it didn't work out. But, felt like I gave myself a chance to make the play, complete the play and get out of the inning.”

And, for the first time, the weight of fighting back only to have the bullpen lose the game -- again -- began to show in the Nationals’ clubhouse postgame when Gomes was asked about the need to properly finish games and soon.

“I think you're nailing it but I think we don't need to, kind of a -- it's happening,” Gomes said. “I mean we can't put that aside. I think it's happening we need to figure out how to do it. I think it's just a matter of keep playing. Keep playing until the game's over and not wait for that moment to happen.

“I think mostly the seventh, eighth innings start happening or when those runs start coming in we, I mean you definitely see a drop. We were still tied and you kind of saw a drop in our...but it's kind of like, because it's happening a little bit. But I think it's one of those things man, because we do come out and battle and battle and battle. I think it kind of gets tiring to say we just need that one hit, just need to make it happen more than just wait for it to happen.”

2. Erick Fedde delivered about the best the Nationals could hope for: five innings, one run, four hits, one walk, one strikeout.

He threw 61 pitches, then was removed for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth.

Fedde last started April 23 for Harrisburg. After that, he joined the Nationals as a stop-gap reliever, which convinced them to turn him into a full-time reliever this season. He hopped into the rotation for injured Anibal Sanchez to start Tuesday.

The night was all about sinkers for Fedde. Thirty-one of his 61 pitches were sinkers.

Fedde is likely to make another start because the Nationals placed Jeremy Hellickson on the 10-day injured list Tuesday (more on that below). When Hellickson returns, they will have to decide who to keep in the struggling back end of the rotation.

“He looked really good,” Martinez said. “He threw groundballs, groundballs. If he keeps pitching like that, we’re going to be in good shape. We’ve got to build him back up, obviously. But he did really well.”

3. Though it’s a low bar, things are improving for Brian Dozier.

He hit a two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning to provide the Nationals a temporary lead and chase New York starter Zack Wheeler. Dozier was 5-for-12 coming into the game before his homer.

Again, this is a low bar. But for a player hitting .208, any progress is of note.

4. Trevor Rosenthal threw an inning of relief Tuesday for Double-A Harrisburg. Rosenthal walked two, threw a wild pitch, gave up a run and of his 24 pitches, just 10 were strikes.

He was though to be nearing a return to the parent club, possibly by the end of the week. The question now is if the Nationals think he needs more time.

5. Hellickson was placed on the 10-day injured list Tuesday because of a right shoulder strain. Yet, he was in center field playing long toss in the middle of the afternoon.

Hellickson said he felt discomfort in his shoulder since spring training. That prompts two questions: Why not say something prior? And, why play long toss after being placed on the injured list because of an achy shoulder?

To the first question, why now:

“Just cause it hasn’t gotten better,” Hellickson said. “We’ve been treating it every day, it hasn’t gotten better. We’ll see what rest does.”

And?

“Just [a] shoulder strain. It feels good when I’m out there. It just doesn’t feel great in between starts. I’m not waking up too good. Like I said, it’s not getting worse, but it’s not getting better. So I’m just going to rest it for a little bit.”

To the second question, why play long toss:

“That feels good,” Hellickson said. “It’s just taking a start off to give it some rest, and not that big workload on a start day. I can take one of those off. It’s just on and off. It feels good one day, not so good the next. So give it some rest and hopefully get back to 100 percent.”

Another question: Has this affected your pitching and contributed to the 6.23 ERA?

“I felt good when I was out there,” Hellickson said. “It maybe affected my command a little bit. But I felt fine. I felt fine when I was out there. I don’t think it affected too much.”

So, the discomfort has been around since spring, has not gotten better, but feels fine when he pitches and throws long-toss but feels bad in between starts, yet hasn’t influenced his outcomes.

Kyle McGowin is a possibility to replace Hellickson in the rotation while he is on the injured list.

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Max Scherzer loses a round, but wins the fight

Max Scherzer loses a round, but wins the fight

WASHINGTON -- Everything outside the damage framing his right eye was standard when Max Scherzer walked toward right field around 6:40 p.m. Wednesday. He went through his usual running routine before graduating to long toss with bullpen catcher Octavio Martinez then moving into the bullpen, where Kurt Suzuki waited.

As Scherzer warmed, fans lined up against the silver rail in section 127. The second bullpen catcher, Nelson Robledo, sat on a folding chair. Martinez stood and moved his head left to right as warmup pitches sizzled past. Pitching coach Paul Menhart flanked Scherzer with a towel over his right shoulder. When Scherzer took a water break during warmups, Menhart took his towel, wrapped it around Scherzer’s neck then scrubbed the sweat from his head and bruised eye while looking every bit the part of corner man. Only the Q-tip and vaseline were absent.

At question when the day began was if Scherzer would even make it this far. Scherzer was still asleep when manager Davey Martinez met with reporters in the morning before the doubleheader against Philadelphia began. Martinez was under the impression then Scherzer would pitch later in the evening, but did not know that for sure until Scherzer woke up, called trainer Paul Lessard and said he was ready to go. Not long after he confirmed himself ready, Scherzer arrived at the park where he practiced bunting in the batting cage. He finished his session with swings and a shout of “Let’s go!”

A final exultant spin and slap of the glove followed an 86-mph slider that closed Scherzer’s night -- forever the “Blackeye game” -- and sent it into lore three hours after he warmed up. A day after becoming national news, and being laughed at by his wife, Erica, for bloodying himself in BP, Scherzer threw seven scoreless innings for an ascending Nationals team which swept a doubleheader from Philadelphia. The opener was a 6-2 win. The nightcap a 2-0 victory anchored by Scherzer’s ornery performance while the swelling under his eye jiggled.

Before he arrived Wednesday, Martinez decided to dispatch fresh black T-shirts which said, “Stay in the fight” on the front and “162+” on the back -- a creation from him and director of mental conditioning, Mark Campbell. “I thought it was perfect timing to get them out,” Martinez said.

Asked about the “plus” on the back, Martinez added, “That’s what you play for.”

Such swagger would prompt eye-rolls three weeks ago when the Nationals staggered home from New York. Martinez’s job was in jeopardy -- to a degree. The season was in severe jeopardy. They are 15-7 since, a run good enough to push them three games under .500 for the first time since April 29. The spiraling Mets lost, so Washington hopped them into third place. The Nationals had not held that position since April 19.

Pitch 117 from Scherzer is one of the reasons they arrived in such a spot. He was tiring, J.T. Realmuto was up, and the tying run was on second. It was at-bat number 40 for Realmuto against Scherzer. General familiarity is one thing. To have faced an astute catcher that many times was another, which is why the final strike provided Scherzer so much sizzle when he left the mound.

“When Realmuto gets in the box, we've had a ton of history and we've faced each other so much, I just know it comes down to execution,” Scherzer said. “I was able to get ahead in the count and execute a good slider. That's where [Kurt Suzuki] and I, that just shows you where Zuk and I are at. I was praying for him to throw down a 1-2 slider and he called it. I was on the mound, just hey, just execute this, execute this, stay through this, don’t' get too far ahead of yourself, and was able to throw the pitch exactly the way I wanted to and get out of a jam and keep that a 1-0 ballgame.”

Realmuto became Scherzer’s 10th strikeout. Jean Segura made it to third base in the first inning. No other Phillies runner made it past second against Scherzer. His ERA has dropped to 2.62. He leads the National League in strikeouts. He doesn’t miss starts -- makes his “posts” as he calls them in old-time fashion -- whenever they come up. “Competitiveness” is always referenced when speaking reverently of Scherzer. Perhaps “reliability” is a more rewarding word. The first, presumably, leads to the latter.

“It’s probably one of the most impressive things -- I can’t let him hear me, I can’t toot Max too much to his face,” Brian Dozier said when looking for clearance in the clubhouse. “It really is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in awhile. He’s probably the best pitcher in our generation and you don’t get that status unless you take the ball every fifth day no matter if you’re doing good, doing bad, got a broken nose, you always want the ball.”

“I was kind of joking with him, ‘Oh you’re throwing today?’ He kind of gave me the go-to-hell look. ‘Of course, I’m throwing today, what do you mean?’ That’s Max. It showed up today. He had really good stuff. Some of the best stuff I’ve seen.“

It was a visceral drama. Scherzer said the pain was limited, which left his pride likely more damaged than his face. Years of needling circled back at him following his viral gaffe in batting practice. Jokes about his appearance following a broken nose were made in the clubhouse. An NC State football helmet Trea Turner typically keeps in his locker was on the floor in front of Scherzer’s chair. A hand-written note was taped to a corner wall next to Scherzer’s locker with advice: “If you try bunting tonight, please do us all a favor and wear this.” The line to razz an incessant needler filled deep and quick.

“My phone's been blowing up, everybody calling and giving me flak,” Scherzer said. “I love it. If you can't talk trash on me right now, you never will.”

With that, he smiled, and the blood-filled pocket under his eye was raised. He could laugh 36 hours later after becoming a national punchline because showing up and getting it done is always a way to have the final say. He did both Wednesday.

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Max Scherzer grits his way through broken nose in stellar outing, win vs. Phillies

Max Scherzer grits his way through broken nose in stellar outing, win vs. Phillies

WASHINGTON -- With a broken nose, pronounced black eye and seven shutout innings, Max Scherzer provided a striking capper to the Washington Nationals' day-night doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Scherzer himself? He shrugged off his work in the Nationals' 2-0 victory Wednesday night as business as usual.

"Trust me, this thing looks a lot worse than it actually is," Scherzer said. "I felt zero pain. There's been plenty of other injuries where I felt a lot of pain and I've had to pitch through. I'll hang my hat on those starts, but tonight I felt zero pain. This is part of what you have to do. You take the ball every fifth time.

"That's my responsibility to the team, to make sure I always post, and I knew I could post tonight."

Brian Dozier and Victor Robles hit solo homers to support Scherzer (6-5) as Washington won for the 16th time in 23 games. Philadelphia has dropped seven of its last nine and 12 of 18.

In the first game, Patrick Corbin struck out eight while allowing one run over seven innings as the Nationals earned a 6-2 victory in the delayed series opener after the teams were rained out Monday and Tuesday.

Scherzer bunted a ball off his face during batting practice Tuesday, but it didn't stop him from making his scheduled start. His injury may have provided an extra layer of intimidation in the form of a black eye more worthy of a boxing ring than a baseball diamond.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner sported a pronounced bruise arcing beneath his right eye, adding another hue to a glare that already featured one blue eye and one brown eye.

"Going out there and throwing, the only thing I had to deal with was the swelling underneath the eye," Scherzer said. "It was kind of jiggling around, and so in warmups I just had to get used to knowing what it was feeling like to throw the ball and just have that swelling."

While he wasn't at his most efficient on a humid night, piling up 117 pitches, Scherzer was rarely threatened. He struck out 10, yielded only four hits and permitted just two runners to reach scoring position. And he finished strong, striking out three in a row after Cesar Hernandez led off the seventh with a double.

"It really is one of the most impressive things I've seen in a while," Dozier said. "He's probably the best pitcher in our generation, and you don't get that status unless you take the ball every fifth day, no matter if you're doing good, doing bad, you got a broken nose. You always want the ball."

Bryce Harper, Scherzer's former Nationals teammate, was 0 for 4 with four walks in the doubleheader and was loudly booed before each plate appearance -- especially in the better-attended nightcap. This series is his second trip back to Washington, where he played from 2012-18, since signing a 13-year, $330 million contract with Philadelphia in March.

Dozier belted a two-out solo shot in the second off Jake Arrieta (6-6), who allowed two hits and struck out three over six innings and had the misfortune of matching up with Scherzer on the wrong day.

"Max is just one of the best to ever toe the rubber, honestly," Arietta said. "We have ran into him a couple of times. That's just what he does. He is tough to square up, and he is throwing three or four pitches for strikes with electric stuff. Just a tough one."

Robles homered off reliever Pat Neshek in the eighth. Neshek departed two batters later with a left hamstring strain, and manager Gabe Kapler said he was likely to land on the injured list less than a week after returning from an absence of more than three weeks caused by a shoulder strain.

Wander Suero pitched a perfect eighth for Washington, and Sean Doolittle worked the ninth for his 15th save in 18 tries.

Philadelphia was 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position between the two games.

Corbin (6-5), whose start was pushed back twice this week, allowed a solo homer to Scott Kingery in the first inning of the opener. But he let just one other runner to reach third while ending a personal three-game skid.

"It's not ideal, but you have to deal with it to make sure you are ready," said Corbin, who is one strikeout shy of 1,000 for his career. "I was glad we got that one in today."

Dozier and Gerardo Parra had RBI doubles against Phillies starter Zach Eflin (6-7). They later hit back-to-back homers in the eighth inning off Cole Irvin to seal the victory.

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