SAN DIEGO — With a frustrated Max Scherzer reduced to being a spectator, Matt Grace and the rest of the Washington Nationals’ bullpen came up big.
Grace pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in place of Scherzer, who was scratched from the start and placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a sore neck, to lead the Nationals to a 7-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Friday night.
Grace and five relievers held San Diego to four hits, a huge performance since manager Dusty Baker doesn’t know how long Stephen Strasburg will last on Sunday in his first start in nearly a month.
“Oh man, he threw the ball great,” Scherzer said of Grace, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and pitched at UCLA. “He only works an inning or two at a time, so for him to go out there and give us 4 1/3, that’s exactly what we needed. I really put the bullpen in jeopardy tonight. For him to be able to step up and deliver what this ballclub needed, that really did a number for our team.”
Scherzer, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who is 12-5 with a 2.25 ERA, said this is the same affliction that forced him out of a start at Miami on Aug. 1 after just one inning, but on the other side of the neck. He said he slept on it wrong two nights earlier and felt it lock up after doing a pregame working Thursday.
“I tried to get it ready to go today and it locked up fully and I wasn’t able to go,” he said. “It’s frustrating. I’ve never been on the DL in my career. I’ve always had that as a badge of honor. I’m frustrated that this has re-occurred and I’m not able to pitch.”
The right-hander said that while can laugh at the injury because he knows it’s not serious, he’s upset at himself for not doing neck strengthening exercises. He thinks he’ll be ready to start again by next Friday.
“Look, I’ve just got to strengthen this up,” he said. “This is my own fault. I was feeling good after my last start, but I forgot to do my neck exercises during this go around. I know it sounds stupid but it happened and for whatever reason it came back. I just need to stay on top of my program. I’ve dealt with it before. If I stay strong, this goes away. Stay on the anti-inflammatories, do your exercises and this is a non-issue.”
Howie Kendrick hit a leadoff homer and drove in two runs for the Nationals.
Grace made his first big league start and his first start since 2012 when he was with Single-A Potomac. It was his 61st big league appearance.
The left-hander allowed two hits, struck out one and walked one. He retired Cory Spangenberg on a grounder to open the fifth and Baker came out to get him after 52 pitches.
Grace said he found out before batting practice that he would start.
“I tried to treat this like a bullpen situation,” he said. “I wanted to get locked in early because I needed to go as long as I could in that situation. There was no room to throw more pitches than I should have. I tried to attack and be locked in as early as possible to try and extend my outing a little bit.
“I knew it would be a piece-together game in that situation. It was an awesome team win. That was a pretty cool win to be a part of.”
Shawn Kelley relieved Grace and with one out allowed Dusty Coleman’s solo homer into the second deck in left field, his fourth.
Joe Blanton (2-2) pitched a scoreless sixth for the win.
“You’ve got two hours out in front to switch gears and come off Max Scherzer,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “We just didn’t have good at-bats throughout the day.”
Kendrick homered to left on the third pitch from Luis Perdomo, his sixth leadoff shot this season and seventh homer overall. Kendrick also hit an RBI single with no outs in the seventh to chase Perdomo.
Washington’s Michael A. Taylor robbed Yangervis Solarte of a home run with a perfectly timed leap to catch the ball above the 396 sign in center field leading off the second, and right fielder Andrew Stevenson made a nice running catch of Wil Myers’ fly ball with a runner on third to end the fourth.
Perdomo (6-8) allowed five runs, three earned, and six hits while striking out five and walking three.
Nationals: Strasburg, who went to high school in suburban Santee before pitching at San Diego State, is scheduled to come off the DL and start Saturday night. He hasn’t pitched since July 23, when he went only two innings at Arizona. He went on the DL with an elbow nerve impingement. The top pick overall in the 2009 draft, he’s 6-1 against his hometown Padres.
Padres: LHP Travis Wood (2-4, 6.46) is scheduled to make his fifth start since being obtained by San Diego. He’s 3-1 in eight all-time appearances at Petco Park, including six starts.
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