By Howard Fendrich
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer’s record-tying 20-strikeout performance was only the latest in a recent series of newsworthy moments for the Washington Nationals, one right after the other.
If things were quiet around Bryce Harper and Co. on Thursday, perhaps it’s only because the club had a day off.
The way things have been going lately, there’s no telling what will happen when the Nationals host the Miami Marlins for a four-game series starting Friday.
Start with Scherzer.
Only three other pitchers — Roger Clemens (twice), Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson — managed to strike out 20 batters in nine innings before Scherzer did it in a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night.
Remarkably, Scherzer threw 96 of 119 pitches for strikes and did not walk anyone.
Asked what was working so well for Scherzer, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus replied: “What wasn’t working? That’s an easier question: Nothing.”
That’s been the case before for the right-hander in his short time in a Nationals uniform. Since moving from Detroit to Washington ahead of last season as a $210 million free agent, Scherzer has thrown two no-hitters plus a one-hitter.
“I think it was the first inning, I ran in and said to (Jayson Werth), ‘That’s Max.’ That’s the guy that goes out there and competes, and goes about it and is an animal out there. I mean, he gets on the mound and goes,” Harper said Wednesday. “Those are the nights that it is fun to watch him pitch.”
Harper himself played pivotal roles in some of the unusual happenings during what’s been quite a week for the Nationals. Here’s a look:
SUNDAY: ALL THOSE FREE PASSES
Harper tied a major league record by walking six times in a loss at the Chicago Cubs that capped a four-game sweep. Hitting one spot behind him was Ryan Zimmerman, who failed to make the Cubs pay for pitching around the 2015 NL MVP, going 1 for 7 and leaving 14 runners on base. That sparked a debate in D.C. about whether it was time to move Zimmerman out of the cleanup spot.
MONDAY: STRASBURG’S DEAL, HARPER’S EJECTION, ROBINSON’S WALKOFF
While Strasburg was on the mound in the series opener against Detroit, word emerged that the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft had agreed to a $175 million, seven-year contract. It was a stunning development given that the right-hander would have been eligible for free agency this offseason — and his agent, Scott Boras, loves seeing what clients can draw on the open market. Meanwhile, in the bottom of the ninth, Harper was ejected by home plate umpire Brian Knight after a teammate struck out. Moments later, pinch hitter Clint Robinson — who acknowledged afterward he thought it was only the eighth inning — hit the first game-ending homer of his career. Harper rushed onto the field to join the rest of the celebrating Nationals but took a moment to point toward Knight and swear at him.
TUESDAY: THE SHUTDOWN WAS A GOOD THING; ZIMMERMAN GOES DEEP
The Nationals acknowledged publicly that Strasburg had a new contract. At a news conference, he and Boras spoke about how GM Mike Rizzo’s much-debated decision to shut Strasburg down before the 2012 playoffs scored points with the pitcher and his family. In that night’s game, Zimmerman showed signs of breaking out of his funk, homering twice.
WEDNESDAY: 20 K’S; SORRY, MOM
Before Scherzer made history — and, as a footnote, before second baseman Daniel Murphy delivered his fourth consecutive multi-hit game to raise his batting average to a majors-best .409 — Major League Baseball announced that Harper would be suspended for one game and fined for what happened Monday. Harper appealed the punishment, so he was able to play Wednesday. After the game, he spoke about being caught on TV, yelling what he described as “a couple choice words” at the umpire: “I think the only person that’s pretty upset that saw it is my mom. I told her, ‘Sorry.’ I texted her.”
Freelancer Ian Quillen contributed to this report.
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