By HAL McCOY
When Mad Max Scherzer spends his day on the Great American Ball Park mound they would do well just to string a bunch of 0’s across the scoreboard and be done with it.
And mark down a slew of K’s in the scorebook and be done with that, too.
Scherzer made his third career start for the Washington Nationals Sunday afternoon in GABP against the Cincinnati Reds and he has given up one run. One.
The three-time Cy Young winner held the Reds to one run over his eight innings, three hits and struck out 15 in a 4-1 victory.
Against Scherzer, the Reds are as helpless as kitten up a tree, with no firemen in sight.
Scherzer used a season-high 120 pitches, 84 for strikes and struck out a season-high 15, the sixth time in his career he has struck out that many.
Only Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Sandy Koufax have struck out 15 or more six times in their careers. Five of those six are in the Hall of Fame and Clemens would be if he wasn’t connected to the PEDs scandal.
Reds starter Sonny Gray wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t Scherzer. Few are.
Gray pitched five innings and gave up two runs and five hits. But with the Reds down, 2-1, in the fifth manager David Bell took him down for a pinch-hitter.
The Nationals, who took two of the three games in the series, scored a run in the top of the fifth off Gray on a leadoff double by Trea Turner and a single by Anthony Rendon.
They made it 2-0 in the fourth on a leadoff single by Rendon and a run-scoring double on a 0-and-2 pitch by Kurt Suzuki.
The Reds scored their lone run in the bottom of the fourth on Joey Votto’s bloop double to shallow left field and Derek Dietrich’s solid double to the right field corner.
The Reds had a run in and a runner on second with no outs. That’s no problem for Scherzer. Jesse Winker lined hard to center, Yasiel Puig popped to second and Josh VanMeter walked.
That put runners on second and first with two outs and Scherzer threw his hardest pitch of the year, a 98 miles an hour fastball to strike out Jose Iglesias.
Scherzer retired the next 10 in a row, seven on strikeouts, until Tucker Barnhartl ed the eighth with a double. Scherzer retired the next three, the last two on his 14th and 15th strikeouts.
It was still 2-1 heading into the eighth. With one out, David Hernandez gave up a walk to Rendon and a single to Juan Soto.
Hernandez struck out Matt Adams for the second out and Bell yanked him to bring in close Raisel Iglesias.
He walked Kurt Suzuki on five pitches and jumped ahead of Brian Dozier 0-and-2. Dozier then beat the shift by poking a ground ball single through the vacated second base hole, a two-run single and a 4-1 lead.
All that was left was for Nationals closer Sean Doolittle to pitch a 1-2-3 to close it off, dropping the Reds back to five games under .500 at 27-and-32.