WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Nationals eye a late-season charge, Max Scherzer is doing his part.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner struck out 10 in six innings for his fifth win in as many starts on Thursday night, helping Washington to a 10-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Scherzer (15-5) also singled in a run off Tyler Mahle (7-9) during a six-run second as the Nationals won their third straight and sixth of eight. He’s batting .292, almost 100 points above his career average.
“What I love about him is he plays the whole game. He pays attention to everything,” Nats manager Dave Martinez said of Scherzer, who also put down two sacrifice bunts. “His at-bat, his bunting, all of it. He’s just a competitor.”
Washington slugger Bryce Harper hit his 26th homer of the season, a blast into the second deck in right-center in the eighth.
Trea Turner connected for his 14th homer in the same inning and finished with four RBIs for the third-place Nationals, who are two games above .500 for the first time since July 7. They remain five games back of Philadelphia and 4½ behind Atlanta in the NL East.
“We’ve said from Day 1, this team is as good as anybody in the National League, in baseball,” Scherzer said. “We’ve just been playing better baseball. That’s all it is.”
Cincinnati’s Eugenio Suarez belted his 25th homer, the only major blemish for Scherzer, who allowed four hits and two walks.
Mahle failed to make it through the second inning for a second consecutive start. Going back four starts, the rookie right-hander has managed only 10 2/3 innings while watching his ERA jump more than a full run to 4.95.
“He’s been kind of toying with his delivery and where he’s standing on the rubber,” Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “I think he’s thinking about a lot of things. A couple of his quality pitches have gotten away from him a little bit. … So, yeah, there’s reason for concern.”
It was 1-0 before Mahle allowed Scherzer’s one-out single to score Juan Soto.
“That’s a huge at-bat in that No. 9 spot,” Harper said. “For him to be able to get on base and get guys over, that changed the ballgame for us.”
Two batters later, Scherzer darted home from second on Turner’s two-run single. Mahle departed two batters after that when he walked Harper with the bases loaded to make it 5-0.
Keury Mella entered and promptly walked Soto to force another run across before Matt Adams’ flyout ended the inning.
Scherzer returned mound in the third having thrown only 25 pitches. In the fourth, he faced seven batters including Suarez, who launched a shot that cleared the visitors’ bullpen in left.
Two innings later, Suarez flew out to center. Scherzer fanned Preston Tucker with his final pitch, a 90-mph cutter, reaching double digits in strikeouts for the 11th time in 23 starts this season.
“To have him throw 110 pitches in six innings is an indication that we were getting some good at-bats,” Riggleman said. “He’s just really tough. The Cy Youngs are obviously warranted.”
BACK IN TOWN
Riggleman managed at Nationals Park for the first time since resigning from Washington’s top post in June 2011, when the team declined to pick up his contract option for 2012. He had taken over the job in July 2009.
“It wasn’t a smart decision, career-wise,” Riggleman said before the game. “But I felt like it was the right decision. That never changed.”
BACK TO BACK
With his July performance, Soto took a second consecutive NL Rookie of the Month honor. He led NL rookies during the month in batting (.299), on-base percentage (.398), slugging (.526), OPS (.924), hits (29), RBIs (15) and walks (16). He tied Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. with five homers.
Nationals: RHPs Stephen Strasburg (neck) and Erick Fedde (shoulder) will throw from flat ground once more before progressing to a mound, manager Dave Martinez said. Strasburg, who last pitched on July 20, will probably need at least one rehab start, Martinez said.
Reds: RHP Anthony DeSclafani (4-3, 5.47 ERA) starts for Cincinnati on Friday. He is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in six appearances against Washington.
Nationals: LHP Gio Gonzalez (6-7, 3.78) tries for his first win since May 28.
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