Max Scherzer came to Washington with a Cy Young award and World Series experience, yet somehow he surpassed expectations through the first half of the 2015 season.
So, on Tuesday night when he lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up five earned runs in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds, his struggles were not only uncharacteristic, they were very surprising.
Every once in a while, on the rarest of nights, professional MLB hitters can expose Scherzer as a mere mortal? You don't say.
"I mean, Max is a human being, still," Clint Robinson said. "There's still a reason he goes up there and competes."
"We all know that pitchers give up runs. No one’s ever finished the year with a zero ERA, a starter," Ian Desmond said.
After five questions about his bad outing, Scherzer smiled and broke the news to reporters.
"Guys, I've had stinkers before. This is part of the deal, part of the gig," he said.
A stinker it was, and it sure was rare. This was the first time all season Scherzer had not pitched at least six innings. It was his first time not completing five innings since June 17, 2014. That's a span of 34 starts. The longest current streak of that sort, by the way, is held by Tuesday's winning pitcher, Johnny Cueto, who is at 52 after his nine shutout innings against the Nats.
Before Tuesday, Scherzer had allowed just four runs in 34 1/3 innings across his previous four starts. Given how well Scherzer had been pitching, he isn't ready to panic.
"This is not one of those games where you beat yourself up for it. You just don't have it. When you think you have it and you just don't make pitches, that's when you start throwing chairs. This isn't one," he explained.
"If it happens my next start where I don't feel like I have location, where I can execute pitches, then I'll start critiquing it and figuring out why."
The Reds got to Scherzer early with two runs in the first inning, one on a Joey Votto double and the other on a Jay Bruce triple. Votto also added a homer in the third and an RBI single in the fifth.
Votto - a former NL MVP - finished 3-for-3 off Scherzer and led the way for a Reds lineup that did not look like the team their 38-44 record says they are.
"I made mistakes, they hit them hard and they hit them far. Just one of those days," Scherzer said. "The home run pitch felt like was right down the middle. [Votto] is good enough, he's going to smash it."
With Scherzer off, it was more than enough to help Cueto, who ended the night with a 2.61 ERA on the year after his first complete game of the season. It was one of the best starts of his career and his fifth shutout.
"You can fall into the trap of letting him dictate your timing," Robinson said. "He does a good job of doing his little wobbles and his quick-pitches and all that stuff. It kind of throws you off. He's that guy that doesn't mess up over the plate. He just doesn't make mistakes."
Scherzer did make mistakes, but is not worried they will persist in his next turn.
"I don't get fazed by them anymore. I still feel like I can throw the ball well. This isn't going to deter me in any way moving forward," he said.