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Recognizing Max Scherzer’s 5 best moments with the Nationals on the 5-year anniversary of his signing

Recognizing Max Scherzer’s 5 best moments with the Nationals on the 5-year anniversary of his signing

When Max Scherzer signed with the Nationals on January 21, 2015, an ESPN poll of MLB executives deemed it the worst free-agent signing of the offseason.

Five years later, it’s clear the findings of that poll couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Scherzer has built up the bulk of his Hall of Fame resume while in Washington, securing two Cy Youngs, three top-10 MVP finishes and more strikeouts than any other pitcher in baseball. He made the jump from star to legend and no one has stood to benefit more than the Nationals.

On the five-year anniversary of him agreeing to come to D.C., here are Scherzer’s five best moments while donning the Curly W.

5. The black eye game (June 19, 2019)

It’s one thing to blank your division rival with 10 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings. It’s another thing entirely to do it one day after fouling a ball off your face and breaking your nose.

But that’s exactly what Scherzer did. As if the man who literally grunts when he throws and stalks around the mound couldn’t be any more of an animal, he pitched through the pain and mowed down a Philadelphia Phillies team that entered the game with the third-best record in the National League.

The game was also part of a historic month for Scherzer, who went 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 68 strikeouts in June. He became only the fourth pitcher in MLB history to record a month with an ERA that low and strikeout total that high, joining Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.

4. Game 7 of the 2019 World Series (Oct. 30, 2019)

When Scherzer woke up on the morning of his scheduled Game 5 start against the Houston Astros in the World Series, he needed the assistance of his wife to get out of bed. He’d dealt with back issues during the second half, but these neck spasms sprung up at the worst possible time and forced Washington to scratch Scherzer from his start.

But three days and one cortisone shot later, Scherzer was back out on the mound for Game 7 looking to save the Nationals’ season. With his injury being so severe and so recent, no one was sure what to expect out of Scherzer in that game.

He gutted his way through five innings of two-run ball, handing the game over to Patrick Corbin. The Nationals won the game, and the World Series, with Scherzer playing a significant role. It wasn’t one of the vintage, masterful performances that Nationals fans have grown accustomed to seeing over the years, but it was enough to return baseball glory to the District for the first time in 95 years.

3. Pair of no-hitters (June 20 & Oct. 3, 2015)

OK, this is technically cheating. But Scherzer has thrown two no-hitters in his career and they both came within four months of each other. He’s only the fifth pitcher to ever achieve the feat twice in the same season, making their historical significance forever intertwined.

That’s not the only thing they have in common, either. Both were also one blip away from being perfect games as well. Against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Scherzer was one out away from a perfecto when pinch hitter Jose Tabata leaned in and took a pitch off his elbow guard to become the first player to reach base against him in that game.

When facing the New York Mets in his final start of the season, Scherzer once again had a perfect game entering the sixth inning. But a groundball to third base was thrown wide by Yunel Escobar, allowing Kevin Plawecki to reach base. Scherzer would recover and still finish out the no-hitter, but the perfect game eluded him once again.

2. Game 2 of the 2019 NLCS (Oct. 12, 2019)

When Aníbal Sánchez led off the NLCS by carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning, he set the bar high for the rest of the Nationals’ pitching staff to reach the rest of the series. That didn’t stop Scherzer from doing his best to try and match it, carrying a no-hitter of his own into the seventh.

He allowed a single to Paul Goldschmidt to open the frame but finished it off with a double play to erase the baserunner. By Bill James’ metric Game Score, Scherzer’s start graded out at an 84—the highest mark Scherzer has ever accrued in a postseason start.

It would be a defining performance for Scherzer in the 2019 playoffs, as the Nationals went 5-0 in games he started. When fans look back on his contributions to Washington’s World Series run, no game will stand out more than this one.

1. 20-strikeout game (May 11, 2016)

This game may have come on a random Wednesday night in the middle of May, but the single-most historic achievement Scherzer has earned in his career was striking out 20 Detroit Tigers in a game.

Two of his first three outs were recorded via strikeout. Then five of six. Then eight of nine. Then 11 of 15. Then 15 of 21. Then 18 of 24. He got the first two outs of the ninth inning via the strikeout and had the chance to set the record with 21 but James McCann eked out a grounder to end the game.

Scherzer had to settle with 20, tying Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood, Roger Clemens (twice) and Tom Cheney for the most in a nine-inning game. Forget the no-hitters and postseason performers. Those have been done hundreds of times and they’ll be done hundreds of times again. Twenty strikeouts is a truly elite accomplishment only done by the very few.

If any performance truly encapsulates his historic career, it was May 11, 2016.

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Nationals pitcher Seth Romero put a long road behind him in his MLB debut

Nationals pitcher Seth Romero put a long road behind him in his MLB debut

Davey Martinez flagged down Seth Romero in the visitor’s clubhouse at Citi Field and called him into his office. The Nationals skipper cherishes moments like this one, but when the 6-foot-3, 240-pound pitching prospect walked through the door, Martinez’s attention briefly drifted elsewhere.

“First and foremost, the earrings gotta go,” he said, “and secondly, congratulations. You’re gonna pitch for us.”

Romero was already traveling with the Nationals as a member of their road taxi squad, though he had yet to appear in the major leagues. That finally changed Thursday, when Washington placed veteran reliever Sean Doolittle on the Injured List and selected Romero’s contract ahead of their series finale with the New York Mets. He made his debut in the fifth inning, allowing four runs over six outs of work with three hits, three walks and four strikeouts.

The big damage came on a grand slam off the bat of Mets catcher Tomás Nido. Romero was one out away from escaping the inning unscathed when he grooved an 0-2 changeup over the middle of the plate and Nido cranked it into the outfield seats for a grand slam. He then came back out for the sixth and recorded two outs around a pair of walks before being relieved by Wander Suero.

“I wasn’t too worried about it,” Romero said. “I felt good on the mound. I mean, things happen so I didn’t really think about it too much and just tried to focus about the next pitch.”

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Martinez spoke after the game about the Nationals’ decision to bring up Romero despite the fact that he hadn’t pitched in a professional game in nearly two years due to Tommy John surgery.

“Seth was here, we needed a lefty in the bullpen [and] as you can see when he throws strikes, he’s got swing and miss stuff,” Martinez said. “His stuff plays so I like it. He threw one bad changeup to Nido. Other than that, I thought he threw the ball very well. Nervous, he was really nervous. Heartbeat was going a thousand miles an hour but he’s gonna be OK.

“I thought with all the lefties coming up that that was a good spot for Romero. I thought he threw the ball good considering it’s his first outing in the big leagues. Got the early strikeout. Walks, I told him, ‘The walks is what—you’re up here you know. Walk one or two guys and these guys can all hit so just throw strikes. All I ask is you throw strikes.’ He was nervous but like I said, when he did throw strikes, he had a lot of swings and misses. It was nice, he’s got good stuff.”

It certainly wasn’t the debut Romero had dreamed about. The runs he gave up contributed to the Nationals’ eventual 8-2 loss and there were no fans in the stands to create the atmosphere that so many athletes strive to experience. But his debut marked the culmination of a difficult road that had kept him off the field and limited his ability to progress.

Washington selected Romero with the 25th overall pick in the 2017 first-year player draft. He had been one of the most electric pitchers in college baseball until the University of Houston dismissed him from the program for a series of incidents that reportedly included failing a drug test and fighting with a teammate. The questions about his character took a hit on his draft spot, which allowed him to land with the Nationals at the back end of the first round instead of being a top pick.

Romero made seven starts for the Nationals’ minor league system in 2017 and he evidently impressed the team enough to invite him to their major league spring training. However, the left-hander was sent home for violating team policy. He wouldn’t appear in a professional game until June of that season, when he made seven starts with a 3.91 ERA.

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But bad news struck again in September, this time in the form of an injury. Romero tore a ligament in his throwing elbow and required Tommy John surgery, putting an end to his 2018 campaign and forcing him to miss all of 2019 as well. By the time he started throwing again, Romero had to start from scratch; the first five balls he threw went straight into the ground. He eventually got over those "yips" and had been working his way back ever since.

“I’ve just been trusting the process, sticking to what they’ve told me, doing everything they’ve told me,” Romero said. “Just trying to stay healthy just in case they needed me.”

The Nationals hadn’t seen Romero pitch in a live game in 23 months, but they felt comfortable giving him a shot after what they’d seen from him at their alternate training site.

“We watched him progress, we watched him down in Fredericksburg and he was a guy that was throwing strikes and that’s important here,” Martinez said. “He was throwing a lot of strikes, he’s always in the strike zone, we feel like he’s got a lot of swing and miss stuff. And we need a left-handed pitcher. Right now he’s the only lefty we got with [Doolittle] going down. So we thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to get him up here and see what he can do.”

Even with the mixed results, both Martinez and Romero were happy to see him back on the mound and showing signs of potential. The former first-round pick still has a lot of work to do before he can live up to his draft status, but for now he reached a significant milestone and experienced for the first time what pitching in the major leagues can do a player’s nerves.

“Oh, I was 100 percent nervous for the first one but after the first few throws, I kind of settled in,” Romero said. “But right off the grip definitely nervous.”

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Juan Soto celebrates National Left-Handers Day in style

Juan Soto celebrates National Left-Handers Day in style

Around 10 percent of the world’s population had reason to celebrate on Thursday, and Nationals outfielder Juan Soto did so in a way he has been getting very used to lately.

Batting from his customary spot in the left-handed batter’s box, Soto connected for his third home run over the last two days against the Mets, this one traveling an approximate 435 feet. That makes five homers in eight games for Soto since he returned following a positive COVID-19 test just hours before the season opener.

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Back and fully healthy, the left-handed hitting Soto continues to impress the baseball world while following in the Nationals' tradition of powerful left-handed hitters. His 61 career home runs from the left side of the dish already ranks 4th in franchise history among left handed hitters:

  1. Bryce Harper: 184 HR
  2. Adam LaRoche: 82 HR
  3. Adam Dunn: 76 HR
  4. Juan Soto: 61 HR
  5. Daniel Murphy: 54 HR

(courtesy: Baseball Reference)

Soto is also hitting .414 so far in 2020, and is a career .290 hitter as well. That’s the 3rd highest mark in franchise history among left-handed hitters with at least 500 at-bats in a Nationals uniform:

  1. Daniel Murphy: .329
  2. Denard Span: .292
  3. Juan Soto: .290
  4. Nick Johnson: .286
  5. Adam Easton: .284

(courtesy: Baseball Reference)

Soto also has the 2nd highest slugging percentage among Nats lefties all-time (behind only Daniel Murphy). Not-so-memorable names like Nyjer Morgan, Brad Wilkerson and Brian Schneider also show up on these lists of lefties, but Soto is making quite a name for himself on an entirely different level.

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