Max Scherzer wasn’t Max Scherzer the first two times he faced the Marlins this season.
Friday he was.
Scherzer delivered a masterpiece in the Nationals’ 9-1 victory over the Marlins. The only run he surrendered was unearned, courtesy of third baseman Mark Reynolds’ atrocious glove work.
“Tonight was just about as good as I’ve seen him,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “It didn’t look like he left anything in the middle of the plate. We didn’t hit a lot of balls on the nose. Guys were coming back shaking their heads.”
The performance by the National League’s All-Star starter and three-time Cy Young winner was a far cry from his two previous outings this season against the Marlins, ones in which he uncharacteristically allowed four runs in each, yet still managed to receive the wins.
Of his 22 starts, those have been the only two in which he allowed as many as four runs.
This time, though, the Marlins were fortunate to score just the one run. Scherzer allowed only three hits. Two were produced by Martin Prado, who has owned the ace right-hander. Prado has gone 18 for 38 (.473) against Scherzer in his career.
“There’s a few guys in baseball I haven’t got a hit off of yet,” Prado said. “You see the ball better against certain guys and don’t see it all against other guys. He’s an attacker. He’s a tough competitor. His makeup is one of the best of the game.”
The problem for the Marlins is that they had only one Prado in their lineup on Friday. Other than J.T. Realmuto, everyone else went 0-for.
Scherzer (14-5) went eight innings, struck out 11 and didn’t allow a hit until Prado sent a bleeder up the middle with one out in the fifth. Prado later doubled off the glove of Reynolds in the seventh on a play that could have been ruled an error and which would have been the third of the inning for the Nats’ third baseman. It drove in the Marlins’ only run, and their first since Thursday’s first inning.
“He’s kind of consistently gone year in and year, kind of dominating,” Mattingly said. “It’s hard to do that for a long period of time, and he’s been doing it for a long time.”
Scherzer on Friday reached the 200-strikeout plateau for the seventh consecutive season, tying him with Roger Clemens and Walter Johnson on the all-time list. Tom Seaver with nine consecutive 200-strikeout seasons holds the record.
As it was, it didn’t much matter.
The Nationals turned the evening into a hard struggle for Marlins rookie starter Pablo Lopez, who labored through six innings. Lopez gave up nine hits, including a home run to Nationals rookie sensation Juan Soto, walked two, and even hit Scherzer with a pitch in his left elbow.
“I felt really bad about it,” Lopez said. “It was an accident. The ball slipped out of my hand.”
Lopez had nothing but words of high praise for his mound opponent.
“He’s one of the best at what he does,” Lopez said. “The way he competes on the mound is something I admire. I’ve always been a Scherzer fan and watching him was really fun.”
The 19-year-old Soto, who also singled and tripled in his five at bats, became the first teenager in the modern era to homer in three successive games and now has 13 blasts on the season.
“Pablo hung in there tonight,” Mattingly said. “I don’t think Pablo had his best stuff, but he really fought tonight.”
The Nationals blew it open in the eighth with five runs off reliever Javy Guerra.