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All-Star Game still meaningful for Nationals ace Scherzer

National League's Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer (31), throws during the first inning at the MLB baseball All-Star Game, Tuesday, July 11, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI — This time the All-Star Game didn’t count.

However, that did not mean that being the starting pitcher for the National League for the second year in a row Tuesday night was meaningless for Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer.

Scherzer pitched one scoreless inning, allowing one hit and striking out two. However, for the first time since 2003, the All-Star Game was a pure exhibition game again as home-field advantage in the World Series no longer goes to the winning league.

“It still meant something to me,” Scherzer said. “You’re still playing for pride. You’re facing the best hitters in the American League this year. That gets your adrenaline flowing.”

Scherzer got Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve on a comebacker to the mound to open the game before Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez grounded a single into right field.

Scherzer then struck out New York Yankees rookie right fielder Aaron Judge on a full-count slider that was low and away before punching out Astros center fielder George Springer to compete the inning.

The matchup with Judge was interesting as it came one night after the 6-foot-7, 282-pounder won the All-Star Home Run Derby. Judge leads the major leagues with 30 home runs and also has a .327 batting average in 84 games.

Scherzer gave credit to catcher Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants.

“He called for the slider and I thought it was a good idea,” Scherzer said. “It was a good call on Buster’s part.”

Scherzer has now pitched in four All-Star Games and worked one scoreless inning in each while allowing a total of two hits and striking out six.

“It never gets old,” Scherzer said. “It’s a 72-hour party and a lot of fun. Once you get between the lines, though, guys are still playing to win. It might be a little more relaxed atmosphere than the regular season but everyone is giving their best effort.”

Scherzer is turning in another fine season after winning the NL Cy Young Award last year. In 18 starts for the NL East leaders, the 32-year-old is 10-5 with a 2.10 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and a league-leading 173 strikeouts in 128 1/3 innings.

The Nationals hold a 9½-game lead in the division over the Atlanta Braves. Scherzer was one of four Washington players in the NL starting lineup with first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, second baseman Daniel Murphy and right fielder Bryce Harper.

Murphy (.342), Zimmerman (.330) and Harper (.325) have the top three batting average in the NL. Harper has hit 20 home runs while Zimmerman has 19 and Murphy 14.

“That’s what made this even more special,” Scherzer said. “All three of them are having great seasons and deserved to be starters. I’m glad the fans recognized that and voted them in, not just Nats fans but fans all around baseball. All three are a big reason we’re in the position we’re in.”

Scherzer also has played a big role in the Nationals being well on their way to a second straight NL East title.

The Nationals seemed to be taking a big gamble when they signed Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract during the 2014-15 offseason. However, he has compiled a 44-24 record and 2.71 ERA in 85 starts through his first 2½ seasons in Washington.

His career record is 135-74 in 10 seasons with a 3.30 ERA in 298 games. He also won the American League Cy Young Award in 2013 while with the Detroit Tigers.

“We all feed off his mentality, not just the pitchers,” Harper said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in baseball like Max. Nothing is ever too big for him. He’s one of the best to ever throw the pill.”

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