Ah, offense. I remember it well. To start last night’s contest, the team combined to score 14 runs, while making the first seven outs. This evening? Not so much. Instead, Taylor Widener and Max Scherzer engaged in a classic pitcher’s duel, matching zeroes through the first six innings. It wasn’t quite an equal match. Mad Max was more dominant, holding the Diamondbacks to only one hit the first two times through the order. Kole Calhoun had a single with one out in the first inning. Their only other base-runners came in the fifth, when Scherzer’s usual pin-point control appeared to desert him, and he walked Carson Kelly and Josh Rojas, both with two outs, before K’ing Widener, his seventh strikeout through five.
Widener was much less overpowering. He had only two strikeouts through five, and had scattered four hits and a walk. But the hits were all singles, he was helped by good Arizona defense, and got the big outs when he needed them. For example, the second inning, where he allowed back-to-back singles with one out, before getting former Diamondback Alex Avila and Victor Robles, to end the threat. He also stranded a runner at third in the third inning, and another in scoring position in the fifth. The D-backs were also helped by the Nationals TOOTBLANing into an out, on what seemed like a botched hit-and-run, giving Carson Kelly one of the easier “caught stealing” notches on his record.
Tim Locastro extended his hitting streak to eight games, a single to left leading off the sixth, which seemed to present Arizona with an opportunity. Calhoun flew out and Asdrubal Cabrera popped out, while Locastro wasn’t able to put his wheels in motion. David Peralta put up a decent battle, first going 3-0 up, then fouled off five consecutive pitches before finally flying out, leaving Tim still on first. Widener followed suit by putting the lead-off hitter on base in the bottom of the sixth, and it seemed he was perhaps getting fatigued. His first two starts had been 81 and 83 pitches, and Taylor passed that as he went to a full count on the next hitter after the walk, finally getting an 8-pitch K on what would have been ball four.
A little chopper back to the mound resulted in the second out, and Widener got a fly-ball for the final out, with his 94th pitch of the night. It was another sterling performance by the young starter, who wasn’t even in the rotation on Opening Day. These six shutout innings lowered his season ERA to 1.59, with Widener’s final line being four hits and two walks, with three strikeouts. Scherzer wasn’t to be outdone, and retired the visitors in order for the seventh, ending his day with two hits, two walks and ten strikeouts. That allowed Scherzer to pass Cy Young for 22nd on the all-time K list, with Max now having 2,808. He needs five more to match Mike Mussina, and will likely end the year in the top twenty.
It was now up to the Diamondbacks bullpen to follow Widener’s sterling effort. Kevin Ginkel was first up, and did his part, with a 1-2-3 inning. Into the eighth we went, and beloved former Diamondback Daniel Hudson came out, as we finally got rid of Scherzer. He’s still firing 97 mph, proving that double Tommy John surgery - the best part of a decade ago now - is not necessarily fatal to a pitcher’s career. With the help of some... interesting balls and strikes calls, shall we say (boy, I am really keen to see the scorecard for Larry Vanover in this one), he also had a 1-2-3 inning, including retiring pinch-hitter Pavin Smith, who had taken him deep last night.
Alex Young came on, and with one out a nice defensive stretch by Cabrera at first-base bailed out Josh Rojas, whose throw almost pulled Cabrera off the bag. It was Arizona’s turn to benefit from another horrible call by Vanover, who called a foul ball on Juan Soto, when his bat clearly never came close to touching the pitch, and he made the final out of another hitless inning. In the ninth, Arizona did get a two out single from Nick Ahmed, coming off the bench to replace David Peralta against a left-hander, but that was all. It was just their third hit of the night, and their only plate appearance with a runner in scoring position had been Widener’s strikeout, ending the fifth.
Alex Young came out for his second inning of work, and with one out, Kyle Schwarber got hold of an 88 mph sinker that came in about belt high. It left the park considerably higher than that, and gave the Nationals a 1-0 walk-off victory. At least this was a relatively quick defeat, coming in at six minutes under three hours. With just three singles and a pair of walks to their name, this one was certainly on the Arizona offense, who found themselves already shutout for the third time, in just 14 games. In a final depressing note, that has already surpassed the tally for the whole of last season.
Click here for details, at Fangraphs.com
Tolstoy: Taylor Widener, +35.8%
Dostoevsky: Alex Young, -25.3%
Pushkin: Cabrera, -13.6%; Calhoun, -11.2%
Rather quieter Gameday Thread than last night, there not being much to speak about, except a procession of D-backs hitters trudging their way back to the dugout with their bats (13 of 32 PAs ended in a K, if my math is right). Those present were: AZDovs11, AzDbackfanInDc, DORRITO, Diamondhacks, GuruB, Jack Sommers, Jim McLennan, Kranepools, Makakilo, Michael McDermott, MikeMono, MrMrrbi, NikT77, Preston Salisbury, Schilling2001, Smurf1000, Snake_Bitten, gzimmerm, kilnborn and since_98. Comment of the night to Jack, for his apparent turning of Pavin Smith into Schrodinger’s Baseball Player:
Hey, at least we don’t have to face a former Diamondback tomorrow. Instead, Luke Weaver gets to go up against Erick Fedde. It’s an early start, with a 10:05 am first pitch. I’ve got a vaccine appointment early, but Jack will be bringing you the preview.