When last seen, Tyler Mahle was not seen for very long.
In his previous start, against the San Francisco Giants, Mahle lasted only two innings and gave up seven runs and seven hits.
On Tuesday night, facing Max Scherzer, Washington’s elite pitcher, Mahle was the better man, pitching the Cincinnati Reds to a 2-1 victory.
This time Mahle went 5 1/3 shutout innings and gave up only three meek singles.
It wasn’t so much facing Scherzer that fueled Mahle, it was what happened in Nationals Park in 2018.
“In the back of my mind, the last time I was here in 2018 I had a bad start and got sent down,” he said. “I had that in the back of my head thinking, ‘You gotta be better than that this time.’”
He was way better. Mahle has been known to rely heavily on strikeouts, but on this night he struck out only two, but there were no hard-hit balls, just a bevy on soft ground balls and shallow fly balls.
“That was huge,” he said. “Strikeouts are really fun and I definitely sometimes try to miss bats. But if they are swinging and making soft contact and keeping it in the infield, I’ll take that every game.”
And in a move that smelled distinctly like a desperate measure in desperate times, Reds manager David Bell batted slump-shrouded Eugenio Suarez in the leadoff spot.
Suarez struck out three times, but he also hit one of the decisive home runs off Scherzer.
Kyle Farmer homered leading off the third and Suarez drilled one the opposite way over the right field wall, leading off the sixth to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.
“It feels great after two strikeouts,” said Suarez. “I knew I had to make my adjustments against Max Scherzer, one of the best pitchers in the league … everybody knows that.
“He missed that change-up right in my strike zone and I was ready to hit it,” he said. “That was my opportunity right there and I put that ball in the stands. Good for me, I hit a home run.”
Suarez is 2 for his last 26 and both hits are home runs.
Scherzer has given up seven earned runs at Nationals Park this season — seven solo home runs.
Bell discussed the leadoff proposition with Suarez’s on Tuesday’s off day and it brought a broad smile to Suarez’s face.
“I was so happy yesterday when David called me and he told me he had that in mind, to give me the opportunity to leadoff for the first time in my career,” said Suarez. “I was so excited. I told him I wanted that challenge. I never hit in that spot before. But I like it. This is going to be fun for me.”
And why did Bell pull this unorthodox maneuver?
“Really just to help Geno, do anything we can to mix it up a little,” said Bell. “It was to give him a different look, just do anything to get him going.”
Bell laughed when somebody asked if Suarez knew he was going to leadoff against Max Scherzer.
“That’s good,” Bell said. “That’s a good point. A lot of times when you are facing a good team and a good pitcher. A great player like Geno responds when he is playing against the best. I can’t think of a better night to do it.”
Bell said Suarez will be back at leadoff Wednesday night and added, “I don’t want to change it every night. It is something we can stick with for a while. We can always change it, but for the forseeable future we’ll stick with that.”
As Bell hoped, Suarez helped the Reds win for only the second time in eight games. And it came against a Nationals team that had won four of its last five.
Mahle gave up a one-out single in the sixth, his 94th pitch, and he was replaced by Tejay Antone. With one pitch, the inning was over, a first-pitch double play by Josh Bell.
Antone pitched a scoreless seventh and a scoreless eighth and Amir Garrett was given a save opportunity. He didn’t get it.
Bell hit a one-out homer in the ninth, cutting the Nats lead to 2-1. Garrett retired pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmereman for the second out.
But David Bell brought in Lucas Sims to face Starlin Castro and it ended on a ground ball to third.
The biggest pitch of the game was Antone’s one-pitch sixth that evoked a double play.
“That couldn’t have gone any better,” said Bell of the double play. “What
Tejay Antone has been able to do is really impressive. He has been doing it each time he goes out.”
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