- - Thursday, August 2, 2018

Max Scherzer said Kevin Long, the Nationals hitting coach, engaged him in some trash talk before Thursday’s game with the Cincinnati Reds.

“He got me fired up,” said Scherzer, after being told he was hitless in his last six at-bats with a runner on third base.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Scherzer had an RBI single in the second inning and later had a pair of sacrifice bunts as the Nationals rolled to a 10-4 victory against the Reds for its third win in a row. Washington scored six runs in the second after scoring 25 runs Tuesday against the Mets.

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Scherzer (15-5) has won his last five starts and leads the league in wins and strikeouts, with 210. The St. Louis native and right-handed hitter is also batting .292 this season with five RBI and five runs scored, and he has a hit in his last five games.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner said he is spending more time in the cage working on his hitting this year.

“He works at it every single day,” said center fielder Bryce Harper, who had a homer and two hits for the third straight game. “You have to respect that.”

More importantly for Scherzer, who called a team meeting last month, is that the Nationals have won six of their last eight games. In the last eight games Washington has outscored its foes 67-25.

“Things are starting to come together,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We are starting to string at-bats together. That’s huge. The best thing about that (second inning) is guys taking their walks. We just have to keep it going.”

They remain five games back of the first-place Phillies, who rallied in the last of the ninth Thursday to beat the Miami Marlins.

“The backbone of the team is the starting (pitching) staff,” said Scherzer, who allowed two runs and four hit in six innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks.

Juan Soto, 19, had three of the seven walks for the Nationals, joining the late Rusty Staub as the only teenager to get three walks in a game.

Washington shortstop Trea Turner hit a homer, drove in four runs and stole his 30th base.

“It means I am contributing,” he said. “I think the last three games especially, we are putting at-bats together.”

The Nationals’ rotation has done well in the past week. “Keep throwing zeroes. They have been a ballclub of late,” Scherzer said of the Reds. “When you get that early run support it is great.”

And nearly every hitter in the lineup has been hot the past week.

Harper is now batting .230 with 26 homers and 67 RBI. “We have to keep it going, have good at-bats,” Harper said.

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