WASHINGTON — Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale wasn’t sure what to expect from Matt Koch in his first major league start. He just knew it wouldn’t be a long outing.
Koch knew it, too, and he made the most of his limited time on the mound, allowing one hit and two runs in five-plus innings as the Arizona Diamondbacks lost 4-2 to the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
The 25-year-old no-hit the NL East champions through five innings before Jose Lobaton singled to lead off the sixth. Walking pinch-hitter Wilmer Difo spelled the end of Koch’s night at 69 pitches with a blister issue cropping up along the way.
Hale said the pitch count and not the blister was the reason he took Koch out of the game after an impressive showing.
“We wanted to see him pitch up here and get a chance to start,” Hale said. “He showed us he can do it. … We were real close on the 70-75 pitches we wanted to get him, so we were really happy with what he did. It’s too bad. He had a win in his pocket there and it went away quick.”
Anthony Rendon hit a three-run homer off Randall Delgado (4-2) to provide the winning margin for the Nationals, trying to secure home-field advantage in their NL Division Series against the Dodgers.
Washington leads Los Angeles by two games with five to play, after the Dodgers lost 7-1 at San Diego.
Diamondbacks second baseman Jean Segura hit a leadoff homer against Max Scherzer (19-7), and Welington Castillo had an RBI double in the third. But the Cy Young Award candidate settled in to strike out 10 in six innings.
Hale acknowledged being surprised by Koch’s performance, even if the right-hander didn’t impress himself.
“Just trying to get quick outs,” Koch said. “I knew I was at my pitch limit, so I was just trying to make the most of the pitches I had and trying to get quick groundball outs.”
It worked for most of the game, and the Louisville product started thinking about a potential no-hitter after getting through four.
“My mindset was just stay focused and keep the ball down,” he said.
Koch succeeded in doing that even if Delgado made a mistake that cost the Diamondbacks a victory. With the organization looking ahead to next season and beyond, Koch did well in a spot start in place of Zack Greinke after five career relief appearances.
“This was a guy who has already shown in the relief appearance that we gave him that he’s not afraid and he goes right at guys,” Hale said. “He was very, very, very good.”
Scherzer mixed his slider, curveball and changeup in with his overpowering fastball to wrest control of the game back. At one point he struck out six consecutive hitters.
“What allowed him to settle in is that he changed his game plan because you could tell their game plan on him was to sit hard and early in the count,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “That was just a veteran making the adjustment at the right time.”
Diamondbacks: Hale said RHP Rubby De La Rosa successfully had stem cell injections in his elbow. De La Rosa is trying the stem cell procedure in an attempt to avoid a second Tommy John surgery.
Nationals: C Wilson Ramos is out for the rest of the season and playoffs after an MRI revealed a torn ACL in his right knee. … LHP Sammy Solis threw a perfect seventh inning in his first appearance since Aug. 15 after a stint on the DL with shoulder inflammation. … OF Bryce Harper missed another game with a left thumb injury. … 2B Daniel Murphy remained out with a strained glute.
LHP Gio Gonzalez (11-10, 4.51 ERA) starts the third of the four-game series for the Nationals against Diamondbacks RHP Shelby Miller (2-12, 6.47).