PHILADELPHIA -- — Max Scherzer delivered a signature performance in what might be his last start for the Nationals, allowing three hits in six innings as Washington beat the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1 in the opener of a doubleheader on Thursday.
Yan Gomes hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the seventh inning for Washington, which is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that forced Wednesday night’s game at Philadelphia to be postponed. Before the game, the sputtering Nationals traded closer Brad Hand to the Toronto Blue Jays, and there are plenty of contending teams who’d love to have Mad Max for the last two months of the season.
Scherzer (8-4) allowed a fourth-inning homer to J.T. Realmuto while striking out five and walking three on 88 pitches. Kyle Finnegan stepped into the closer’s role and struck out two in the seventh for his first career save.
“Today was a wacky start because of everything going on, but you put the blinders on and go and compete,” Scherzer said. “Even when you are at your worst, you want to go out and do your best.”
As Scherzer received handshakes in the Washington dugout in the top of the seventh, Gerardo Parra doubled past diving center fielder Odubel Herrera and Gomes — who was reinstated from the 10-day injured list before the game — drilled a sinker from Zack Wheeler into the trees beyond the center field fence for his ninth homer of the season.
“I wanted that pitch (to Gomes) on the outside,” Wheeler said. “I threw it down the middle and he made me pay for it.”
Wheeler (8-6) went the distance in the seven-inning game, allowing seven hits, walking two and striking out five on 100 pitches.
“We need to win some games,” Wheeler said. “That was a big game for us and I needed to go out and post some zeros, especially against Max because he’s going to hold us or try to and I let us down out there.”
Scherzer — a three-time Cy Young Award winner and a stalwart of Washington’s 2019 World Series-winning squad — will become a free agent at the end of the season.
“I don't want to look at this as a negative thing. I really look at it as a positive thing,” Scherzer said. “I signed a seven-year deal here to win a World Series. And we won. We won a World Series. That's a lifelong dream come true.”
The Nationals have fallen out of contention in the NL East thanks to a 7-16 record this month, making Scherzer by far the best starting pitcher on the market before the trade deadline on Friday.
Scherzer was asked about his expectations for the 24 hours before the deadline.
“I’ve got nothing,” he said. “I don’t know. How does this go? This is new to me. I’ve only been traded during the offseason. I’ve never had to deal with this during the season. For me, you put the blinders on, go out, compete and have fun with your teammates.”
Scherzer had made only one start since starting the All-Star Game and was scratched from his last outing with tightness in his right triceps. While players in trade talks are often rested to avoid injury, Scherzer took the ball anyway — and he was in fine form, changing speeds and inducing soft contact.
“I asked (general manager Mike) Rizzo last night if I was pitching,” Scherzer said. “He said, ‘Yes’. And then I told him I wanted to pitch Game 1. And I was ready to go.”
Another Washington staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday morning, meaning the Nationals’ outbreak has affected 13 people — four players and nine staffers.
Before the game, Washington placed All-Star SS Trea Turner, RHP Daniel Hudson, C Alex Avila and RHP Austin Voth on the COVID-19 injured list. Turner was the first player to test positive and was pulled from Tuesday night’s game during the first inning.
Five members of manager Dave Martinez’s coaching staff — bench coach Tim Bogar, pitching coach Jim Hickey, first base coach Randy Knorr, third base coach Bob Henley and assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler — were unavailable on Thursday because of COVID-19 protocols.
Major League Baseball allowed Thursday’s doubleheader to proceed after morning testing revealed no more infections among active players, Martinez said during his morning Zoom session with reporters.
Martinez said none of the cases were “too serious” and that only person who tested positive was unvaccinated.
“Thank God that most of us or all of us are vaccinated,” Martinez said. “I can’t imagine going through this without being vaccinated. I want to make it clear, (the vaccine) does help.”
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg had surgery on Wednesday to address neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. The 2019 World Series MVP will miss the rest of the season but is expected to be healthy for the start of spring training next year.
Phillies: Placed C Andrew Knapp on the paternity list and recalled C Rafael Marcand from Double-A Reading.
Nationals: Return home to host the Chicago Cubs on Friday. Washington has not announced Friday’s starting pitcher.