Nationals ace Scherzer swings into action, decides to bat

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — In his third spring training start, Washington ace Max Scherzer wanted to try something different: batting.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez could have used a designated hitter in Tuesday’s 8-4 loss to Boston, but instead wrote Scherzer’s name in the ninth spot on the lineup card.

“He’s real big into the whole game, not just the pitching portion,” Martinez said. “He loves to hit, he loves to run the bases, he loves to play the game.”

A .243 hitter last season, Scherzer fouled a pitch into his dugout and fouled another straight back in his lone plate appearance before watching the sixth pitch for a called third strike.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner has taken batting practice since camp began and intends to hit for himself in each of his final three spring outings.

“Hopefully get some situations where I can bunt and just work on that because that’s my No. 1 job, to make sure I move runners,” Scherzer said. “I saw last year how important it was.”

On the mound, Scherzer delivered a mixed performance.

After retiring the first nine batters in order, seven of the first eight batters in the fourth inning reached base, ending his afternoon.

“I actually was happy in the fourth inning that I ran into some trouble and I had to try to pitch out of a jam,” Scherzer said. “I had to try to execute pitches out of the stretch when I’m tired.”

Ultimately he surrendered five runs on five hits while striking out four in 3 1/3 innings. Martinez pulled Scherzer with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth after throwing 38 of 56 pitches for strikes.

Scherzer wanted to pitch a little longer.

“In my head I was trying to get my max pitch count to 60 or 65,” said Scherzer, who surrendered at least five runs only once last season. “I knew I wanted to try to face one more hitter, but Davey wanted to get a lefty-lefty match-up in there and get that look.”

The inning before the Nats pulled Scherzer, Howie Kendrick left the game with a left hamstring strain after beating out an infield hit. The Nationals are considering sending Kendrick for an MRI exam in the coming days.

“I don’t how severe it is right now,” Kendrick said. “Right when I felt it I tried to slow down as much as possible so I wouldn’t do any more damage. That’s all I can really tell you right now.”

A 13-year veteran, Kendrick, 35, missed the final four months last season after tearing his right Achilles.

“I’m thankful it wasn’t that but, yeah, now a hamstring,” Kendrick said. “I figure we can deal with that.”