When Davey Martinez visited the mound in the top of the fifth inning Saturday, Max Scherzer’s ability was waning and Kyle Finnegan was warming.
A soft single to left field by Corey Dickerson put two runners on base. Martinez left the dugout, went to talk to Scherzer, tapped him on the chest, then promptly turned around. Brian Anderson, one of the few traditionally capable Marlins hitters, was at the plate.
Scherzer hit him four pitches later. That loaded the bases. Martinez remained in the dugout. Marlins prospect Jesús Sánchez was up next. He had struck out four times and walked none since being promoted Friday. Scherzer walked him on four pitches to force in a run. He was removed.
Finnegan struck out Jorge Alfaro. Tanner Rainey needed just 10 pitches to make it through the sixth inning. Daniel Hudson quickly handled the seventh. The Nationals won, 5-4, in the first game of a doubleheader (each game seven innings) against Miami.
But it was the second consecutive outing Scherzer did not navigate the late portions of his start well. He gave up three runs in the sixth against Baltimore on Aug. 16, then another in the seventh, which tied the game. Scherzer was over 100 pitches both times he ran into trouble.
“I just know I still had plenty in the tank in that situation,” said Scherzer of the fifth inning Saturday. “Understand my pitch count is up in that situation. [Martinez] did the right job coming out, checking on me, making sure I am good to go. I train for those situations. I’ve had success in those situations. The fact that there’s been a couple times I haven’t had success, [doesn’t mean] I’m going to continue to have failure in those situations. I believe I can pitch in tough spots in the game, even late in the game, even when my pitch count is above 100. I still believe I can execute in those situations. Unfortunately in the last couple games, I haven’t done that and I need to get better at that.”
The relationship between Martinez and Scherzer is an interesting dynamic. Both push the other. A famous on-field instance of Scherzer shouting “No!” at Martinez from the mound one day made it appear he was always controlling the situation. However, that’s not true. Martinez has told Scherzer multiple times he was going back to the mound when the 36-year-old starter thought he was done.
When left on the mound Saturday, Scherzer thought his energy level was still good and his execution was poor.
“In the fifth inning, there was a couple batters I had bad location on,” Scherzer said. “The other couple times I didn’t hit my spot and they were able to get a hit and extend the inning. When it got down to, when you really needed an out, say against Anderson and Sánchez, I just wasn’t able to get the job done. Wasn’t able to locate. Obviously had hit by pitch and walked somebody on four straight. So, that’s on me.”