Nationals look to clinch series against Diamondbacks

PHOENIX — Washington pitcher Max Scherzer became the major league leader in wins after getting his seventh victory Friday, when the Nationals inched closer to becoming the first team to take a series from Arizona this season.

Perennial Arizona Diamondbacks All-Star Paul Goldschmidt is just trying to find his footing.

After winning the first two games of the four-game series, the Nationals will send Stephen Strasburg (4-3, 3.52 ERA) to the mound on Saturday to oppose Diamondbacks newcomer Troy Scribner, who will make his 2018 debut.

Scherzer did it all in a 3-1 victory Friday, striking out 11 in seven innings and getting two hits, including a two-out RBI double that gave the Nationals a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning.

“I love RBIs,” Scherzer said.

He had his sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season and leads the majors with 91 while commanding a four-pitch mix. Scherzer got at least two strikeouts on four different pitches — a fastball, a cut fastball, a slider and a changeup.

Eight of his first nine outs were strikeouts, and he stranded runners on second and third with no outs in the first inning and a runner at third with one out in the second.

“Just mix,” Scherzer said. “Never staying in one spot. Up-down. East-west. Was able to execute pitches and I got in synch with ‘Sevvy’ (catcher Pedro Severino). We had a good rhythm going. I filled up the zone. Threw first-pitch strikes. Got to my kill counts. The rhythm out of the windup looked really good. Looked like it was nice and patient.”

Washington manager Dave Martinez gave the offense a new look, moving Bryce Harper into the second spot behind Trea Turner and in front of Anthony Rendon. Harper had hit leadoff in his last nine starts after spending most of the season hitting third.

“A lot has to do with getting pitches to hit,” Martinez said. “Getting him up there (in the order). In the ninth inning, you want your best hitters to get that last shot to hit.”

Five-time All-Star Goldschmidt, meanwhile, is stuck in a rut at the plate. He snapped a 2-for-39 streak with a single in the ninth, but he has not homered since April 15, a career-long 82 at-bat drought.

He is slashing .219/.344/.394 with four homers and 12 RBIs. A power hitter who also puts the ball in play, Goldschmidt has an uncharacteristically high 50 strikeouts in 163 plate appearances.

“I show up and try to have good at-bats, hit the ball hard. I haven’t done that enough early on in the year,” Goldschmidt said.

“You feel bad and you want to contribute to the team. I feel bad that my lack of production wears on other guys on this team and wears on the manager and he has to deal with it. There are not too many ways to say it. I just haven’t performed. It is part of the game but it has hurt us at times. The guys have picked me up and done a really good job.”

Strasburg would like to wash away his most recent appearance at Chase Field, a start last July 17. He was removed with forearm stiffness after throwing 51 pitches in two innings, giving up one hit and three walks. Surgery was not required, but Strasburg missed four turns through the rotation before returning Aug. 19 with no ill effect. He finished the season 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and was third behind Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

Strasburg gave up six hits and five runs in 6 2/3 innings in a 5-4 loss to Arizona on April 27 this season, when he could not find an answer for A.J. Pollock. Pollock homered, singled and tripled in three plate appearances against Strasburg, driving in the tying run with his triple in the sixth inning and scoring on a sacrifice fly.

He is 4-3 with a 3.59 ERA in 10 career starts against Arizona, the most starts against an opponent outside the NL East. He is 3-2 in six starts at Chase Field.

Scribner will be purchased from Triple-A Reno to make the Saturday start, which will be his fifth in the majors. He was 2-1 with a 4.18 ERA in 10 appearances, four starts, with the Los Angeles Angels last year before being claimed off waivers by the Diamondbacks this spring.

Scribner was 2-1 with a 5.68 ERA in five starts at Reno this season after going 11-4 with a 4.35 ERA for Salt Lake in the Angels’ organization last year. He did not face the Nationals last year.