- - Monday, April 9, 2018

Max Scherzer had one of the most efficient outings of his career Monday night, as he needed just 102 pitches – 72 were strikes – to record his fifth shutout in the majors in a two-hit masterpiece.

He had 10 strikeouts with no walks and fanned at least 10 batters for the 66th time, shutting out the Atlanta Braves 2-0 before a sparse crowd at chilly Nationals Park in his first home start of the year.

But the three-time Cy Young Award winner was also joyous to talk about the first steal of his major league career. He swiped second base in the seventh inning after recording a single with the Nationals clinging to a two-run lead.

“Let me go!” was his message to manager Dave Martinez.

“I feel like I am fast enough,” said Scherzer, with a grin. “I thought it was just a chance to go.”

Scherzer, who starred at the University of Missouri, said it was his first stolen base since high school. He has played in 308 Major League games.

“He competes. He can hit now,” said catcher Pedro Severino. “He is awesome.”

Scherzer said he tried to convince his previous two Washington managers, Matt Williams and Dusty Baker, to let him try a steal if the situation was right but he never got the green light from them.

“Finally!” said Scherzer, happy to get the chance to show his speed.

The Nationals ace joked that he has the best popup slide in the Major Leagues.

But the competitive right-hander is paid big bucks to throw the ball – not steal bases.

That was the certainly the case Monday night, as he bounced back from a poor outing to dominate the Braves.

The victory on Monday ended a five-game losing streak for the Nationals (5-5), who began the season with four wins in a row.

Scherzer, who has won two Cy Young Awards in the National League, is 2-1 this season.

“Really the biggest thing was on the first pitch; I collected a lot of first-pitch outs,” Scherzer said. “They were aggressive early in the count. When I finished the seventh I saw the pitch count was still down. I knew I had a chance to keep going. It was a 2-0 ballgame. Last time I faced them, they can get me. You have to continue to execute pitches against everybody.”

The last time the Nationals lost as many as five games in a row was a seven-game skid in June, 2016 under former manager Baker.

“He picked us up tonight. He really did,” Martinez said of Scherzer. “We were able to score some runs early for him” with two in the first.

The ace pitched well in his first game at Cincinnati and struggled at Atlanta. But turned in another strong game at Nationals Park, the site of one of his two no-hitters and his 20-strikeout game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“Max being Max,” Martinez said of the outing. “He was attacking the strike zone all game long. When he does that he is very effective.”

Scherzer shook off catcher Severino several times in a loss last week in Atlanta.

That was not the case Monday.

“I felt we were on the same page a little bit better,” Scherzer said.

Martinez presented the second base bag to Scherzer in honor of the steal.

“We talked about it. I knew he was going to do it,” Martinez said of the stolen base.

The only bad news for the Nationals was that second baseman Howie Kendrick left the game in the eighth “his right leg tightened up on him,” according to Martinez. He was replaced by Wilmer Difo.

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