PHILADELPHIA — Ryan Howard finally figured out Max Scherzer. The same could not be said for his teammates.
Scherzer didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning and he was dominant through eight as the Washington Nationals continued their mastery of the Philadelphia Phillies with a 3-2 victory Tuesday night.
One of the ace’s only blemishes came in the seventh when Howard, who got the start despite being 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer coming in, hit an opposite-field two-run home run to break up the shutout and pull the Phillies within 3-2.
But Scherzer closed the door from there, striking out three more in the seventh and eighth en route to his 15th win of the season.
“That’s Scherzer, man,” Howard said. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the game for a reason. He’s got basically four-plus pitches that he can throw any time, any count, and throw them for strikes. He does a great job of keeping hitters off balance, mixing it up really. And he’s got kind of a pit bull’s mentality when he’s out there on the mound, wanting to shove it to the other team.”
Scherzer (15-7) allowed three hits and struck out 11 while walking one. He was perfect through the first four innings, striking out five consecutive batters – all swinging – between the second and third innings.
He has taken a no-hitter into the sixth in nine of his 61 all-time starts with the Nationals, and has allowed just five hits in his last two starts.
“Hey man, I mean that’s why he’s Max,” Washington manager Dusty Baker said. “You know we had a good chance to win when Max pitches, and there’s a good chance of him going deep in the game.”
Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 37th save, getting a strikeout and inducing a big game-ending double play after issuing a leadoff walk.
Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera collected the only other hits for the Phillies, who have lost six of eight to fall 12 games below .500. They have dropped their last eight games to first-place Washington, which matches the team record for consecutive losses vs. the Nationals/Expos franchise.
“We need to improve our plate discipline,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’re just not getting hits. But Scherzer was dominant, you’ve got to give him credit. He’s a tough cookie.”
Scherzer, who pitched two no-hitters last season, didn’t allow a runner to reach base until Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp walked with one out in the fifth. Galvis ripped a double to right-field to lead off the sixth to break up Scherzer’s no-hit bid, but was picked off second base by Scherzer to end the scoring threat.
The Washington ace also had a sacrifice-bunt RBI in the fourth after Ryan Zimmerman walked and Danny Espinosa ripped a single.
The Nationals staked Scherzer to an early lead in the first inning. With two outs and nobody on, Daniel Murphy doubled before scoring on a double by Bryce Harper, his 19th RBI in the last 19 games. Wilson Ramos brought Harper home with an RBI single to put the Nats ahead 2-0.
Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff (9-13), who walked just six batters in his last eight starts coming in, issued three walks and allowed five hits and three earned runs through six innings.
“The Murphy at-bat was kind of unfortunate,” Eickhoff said. “I thought I had him beat and he just got enough on it. That kind of started it.”
Scherzer’s double-digit strikeout game was the 12th of the season, setting a Nationals record. He improved his career record to 7-1 against the Phillies, including a 6-0 mark since he joined the Nats in 2015.
HOWARD’S STILL GOT POP
Howard’s homer was the 20th of the season and the 377th of his career, tying him with Jeff Kent and Norm Cash for 73rd on MLB’s all-time list. His next home run will tie him with Matt Williams for 72nd place.
He has 10 career 20-homer seasons, the second most in Phillies history behind only Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (14).
“It’s cool,” Howard said. “I mean, it just goes to show to just keep trying to plow away, keep swinging, keep doing what you do. Even though it’s a lot less at-bats, hopefully it shows something.”
The Nationals, who opened their six-game road trip with a 4-0 victory over the Phillies on Monday, are 7-1 at Citizens Bank Park this season.
Phillies: Peter Bourjois missed his second straight game after getting hit in the left wrist by a pitch Sunday.
The Phillies and Nationals wrap up their three-game series Wednesday night with Philadelphia LHP Adam Morgan (1-8, 6.50) opposing LHP Gio Gonzalez (9-9, 4.25).