WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer struck out nine in six innings to move up to No. 21 on the career Ks leaderboard, and Alex Avila drove in the game’s lone run with one of his two doubles, helping the Washington Nationals edge the St. Louis Cardinals 1-0 on a windy Wednesday.
Scherzer (1-1) retired 12 of his last 13 batters, working in short sleeves as gusts of air topping 30 mph rippled his white jersey and sent napkins and other debris twirling around Nationals Park on a 50-degree late afternoon.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner struck out Dylan Carlson swinging through a 93 mph fastball with his 109th and final pitch. The righty’s strikeout of Justin Williams to end the fourth gave Scherzer 2,814 for his career, moving him one ahead of Hall of Famer Mike Mussina. Next up: Mickey Lolich, whose 2,832 strikeouts rank 20th in MLB history.
It wasn’t easy early for Scherzer, who loaded the bases with one out in the first inning via a hit batter, infield single and walk, but got out of it by striking out Carlson and Matt Carpenter.
Scherzer needed 49 pitches just to get through two innings, but he eventually got in a groove, giving up a total of four hits and one walk, while lowering his ERA to 1.80.
Washington scored in the second off Carlos Martínez (0-4) when Avila’s two-out double to left — his first hit as a member of the Nationals — scored Josh Bell from first base. Avila doubled to right in the fifth, but was stranded at third.
Martínez allowed four hits in six innings in his longest outing since going seven on July 7, 2018.
For the second game in a row, Nationals righty Tanner Rainey entered in relief in the seventh to protect a 1-0 lead.
On Tuesday, he put Washington in a hole by allowing two runs, before a comeback provided a 3-2 win for the Nationals. This time, he worked around a double by striking out the side.
In the eighth, Daniel Hudson gave up a hit and walked two batters to load the bases with two outs, but got Carpenter to fly out to right, before Brad Hand worked the ninth for his third save this season. It’s his 24th successful save chance in a row, the longest active streak in the majors.
Nationals slugger Juan Soto isn’t exactly sure what caused the strained left shoulder that landed him on the 10-day injured list. The 2020 NL batting champion said Wednesday he feels sore whenever he throws a ball, but not when he swings. He has been told that he needs rest more than anything else. “It’s better to take a couple days now than lose half of the season,” Soto said.
Cardinals: OF Tyler O’Neill (right groin) will play a full simulated game Thursday to give the team “a little more intel to make a decision” on whether to activate him, as expected, from the 10-day IL on Friday, manager Mike Shildt said.
Nationals: LHP Jon Lester will pitch one more simulated game at the team’s alternate training site, with the aim of throwing five-plus innings and about 90 pitches, before making his season debut. … RHP Stephen Strasburg (10-day IL, right shoulder inflammation) threw from 75 feet Tuesday.
Cardinals: Open a three-game series at home Friday against the Reds, with St. Louis LHP Kwang Hyun Kim (0-0, 9.00 ERA) on the mound. That begins the Cardinals’ stretch of 17 consecutive days with a scheduled game.
Nationals: Head to New York for a three-game set at the Mets that begins Friday with RHP Erick Fedde (1-1, 5.56 ERA) pitching.