Royals starting pitcher Glenn Sparkman got victimized by the long ball once again — that’s seven home runs allowed in his last three starts — but he gave his club six innings and kept them within striking distance for most of the game.
Unfortunately for the Royals, their opportunities to strike were few and far between against Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer.
Scherzer, who had a hit and a stolen base in the game, pitched seven scoreless innings, allowed four hits and one walk and struck out 11 to deal the Royals a 6-0 loss in front of an announced 27,863 at Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon.
The teams will play the rubber match of their three game set on Sunday afternoon, the last day before the Major League Baseball All-Star break.
Recently selected to his seventh All-Star Game, Scherzer has now allowed just six earned runs and seven walks in his past eight starts.
He entered the weekend having struck out 74 batters and gone 6-0 in his past seven starts, and he led the majors in strikeouts (170), ranked second in innings pitchers (122 1/3 innings) and had posted a 1.00 WHIP this season.
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon went 2 for 3 with a double, including two hits against Scherzer. He now has 16 career hits against Scherzer, the second most of any left-handed hitter behind Nick Markakis.
“I have no idea,” Gordon said of his success against Scherzer. “I know I hit him pretty good, but I have no idea why. I was talking to somebody today, and I think it’s because I know he’s so good, I lock in a little more and simplify my swing. You saw it today, I was just trying to slap it down the line because he’s so good.”
With the Nationals (46-42) up 1-0 going into the second inning thanks to a Juan Soto RBI single, Kurt Suzuki’s two-run home run gave Scherzer (9-5) plenty of breathing room.
Suzuki, who’d hit five homers in his previous 15 games, blasted a 2-2 fastball over the left field wall to end a 10-pitch battle with Sparkman (2-5).
With runners on the corners and one out, Nationals speedster Trea Turner got caught trying to steal second. He remained in a rundown long enough for Soto to score from third on the play despite a close play at the plate.
The Nationals scored three runs in the inning on a walks and three hits. Sparkman kept them off the board for the next four innings and allowed just three hits during that stretch.
“Just getting myself relaxed and making pitches, really,” Sparkman said of the difference in the last four innings. “Just going up there knowing that I don’t have to make everything so perfect and just trying to throw strikes.”
Sparkman, who’d given up 13 earned runs in his past two starts (8 2/3 innings), went six innings and allowed four runs on nine hits and two walks. He also struck out three.
“I thought the way it looked early, they were just going to bash his brains in,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He just kinda did a nice job of settling down and making pitches. I was pleased that he was able to give us six strong.”
The Royals (30-60) needed innings from him more than anything after using seven relief pitchers during Friday night’s 11-inning win.
The Royals offense made very little noise against Scherzer, as has been the case with most teams in the majors this season.
Scherzer’s 10th strikeout of the game came against Nicky Lopez in the top of the seventh inning. It marked Scherzer’s ninth game of at least 10 strikeouts this season, his 91st such game of his career.
Scherzer finished the inning with a strikeout of Cam Gallagher, who lost his handle on the bat as he swung and missed at the third strike.
“(Scherzer) threw the ball really well,” Yost said. “I was proud of Sparkman. He gave us six innings. He started out a little slow. I’m like, he’s going to have at least try to get us through five. But he settled down in the third and did a great job of getting us through six.”
The Nationals added two runs (one earned) in the seventh against reliever Jorge Lopez. Anthony Rendon’s sacrifice fly drove in the first run, and Soto added an RBI single as the lead expanded to six runs.
Jorge Lopez pitched the final two innings after not recording an out in his previous relief appearance against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday. He struck out three and three hits on Saturday.