After becoming the fifth player in major league history to strike out 20 batters over nine innings, Nationals ace Max Scherzer faces another daunting challenge on Tuesday: defeating Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard.
''Let's just say that I'm happy that we had six days (between starts)'' Scherzer said Sunday, four days after his record-tying performance in Washington's 3-2 victory over Detroit.
While Scherzer (4-2, 4.15 ERA) was brilliant Wednesday, allowing six hits and no walks while throwing 96 of 119 pitches for strikes, Syndergaard has had the more consistent start to the season.
With a fastball and sinker both averaging in the high 90s, the 23-year-old right-hander has pitched to a 2.53 ERA in seven outings. In his last, the same night as Scherzer's historic performance, Syndergaard allowed two runs over eight innings on 95 pitches in the Mets' 4-3 win over the Dodgers to improve to 3-2.
''My God, he's got unbelievable stuff,'' Scherzer said. ''We haven't gotten to see it really in person, but obviously what he's accomplished so far this season is very, very impressive.''
At 31 years old, Scherzer says his own career is proof Syndergaard can keep the same kind of ''stuff'' for years to come.
After winning the 2013 AL Cy Young Award and making two All-Star teams in five years in Detroit, Scherzer threw the first of two no-hitters of his career last season with Washington (23-15). He struck out 17 in the second, against the Mets at Citi Field on Oct. 3.
''I'm still throwing just as hard as I did when I first came up,'' he said. ''So that kid's going to be sitting there throwing this hard for years to come. You really hope that, you really wish good fortune that he stays healthy.''
Tuesday's high-profile pitching matchup at Citi Field opens the first series between the top two teams in last year's NL East race. It also marks the return of second baseman Daniel Murphy, who helped the Mets (21-16) to the division title, then homered in six consecutive postseason games during their run to the World Series.
''When you face your old team, it's emotional,'' Scherzer said of Murphy, who signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract with Washington this offseason. ''I just got to do it. You want to beat those guys. You've got friends, and you get a little extra juiced up for that.''
Murphy is off to a sensational start with the Nationals, leading the majors with a .400 average to go with five homers, 13 doubles and 23 RBIs. He was scratched from the starting lineup in Sunday's 5-1 loss to Miami due to illness but came in to pinch-hit in the ninth.
Bryce Harper walked once, giving him 24 over his last 10 games – the second-most over a 10-game stretch over the past 30 years. Barry Bonds walked 25 times from April 21-May 1, 2004.
Harper hit .229 with three walks in nine games in New York last season, but found some success against Syndergaard, going 3 for 9.
Syndergaard, however, had little trouble with the rest of the Washington lineup, going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in three starts. He struck out 19 while walking one over 15 innings in two matchups at Citi Field.
The Mets have won eight of 10 in Flushing, but return home on the heels of a 4-7 trip to fall 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Nationals.
''It was a long trip, a terrible finish to it,'' manager Terry Collins said after being swept by Colorado with Sunday's 4-3 loss. ''We'll pick up the pieces. We've got a long, long, long way to go.''
The Mets won seven of nine meetings with the Nationals last season after acquiring Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline. Cespedes, who hit .321 with six extra-base hits against Washington in 2015, belted his 12th homer of 2016 Sunday.