WASHINGTON -- Right-hander Max Scherzer was dominant at Nationals Park on Thursday night as the Nationals blanked the Orioles, 4-0, to win the finale of the four-game, home-and-home Battle of the Beltways clash. The Nats put the brakes on a four-game skid, while ending the O's three-game winning streak.
The Nats extended their National League East lead to eight games after the Marlins lost Thursday. The O's, meanwhile, remained one game behind Boston and Toronto -- who both lost -- in the American League East, and they hold a two-game edge in the second AL Wild Card spot.
Nobody had to tell Scherzer that he had to go deep in the game. He was aware the bullpen was taxed in the last 10 games.
"I needed to get deep into the game to help those guys out," Scherzer said.
Scherzer did just that, pitching eight innings and allowed two hits, the first coming in the fourth, when Adam Jones led off with a double. After that, Scherzer retired the next 12 batters he faced until Mark Trumbo singled to center field to lead off the eighth. Trumbo later stole second base, but he was left stranded as the potential tying run at the time. Scherzer struck out 10 and issued no walks.
"The key thing is that we won the game, and Maxie pitched awesome," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "He had it from the opening pitch. That's what aces do. He shut down a very high-powered offense. That was a masterful job by Max."
Scherzer's counterpart, Ubaldo Jimenez, allowed one run in six innings. His only mistake occurred in the fourth inning, when Jayson Werth swung at a first-pitch fastball and homered to center field, giving Washington a 1-0 lead with his 17th blast.
"As a starting pitcher, that's one of the games that you dream of, because it gets you going," Jimenez said. "You have to bring your A-game, because [Scherzer's] tough to hit. You have to go out there and compete. He was good."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Scherzer saves the bullpen: The Nats' relief corps needed a rest. Washington is going through a 20-game stretch without a day off, and its bullpen has been overworked. In its last 10 games, Washington's bullpen allowed 20 earned runs in 37 innings. Only Mark Melancon pitched in Thursday's game, and he worked around Hyun Soo Kim's leadoff double to retire the Orioles in the ninth inning.
Asked if the bullpen is back to normal because of Scherzer's brilliant outing, Baker said, "It sure helps. It helps -- big time. Melancon hasn't pitched in five days, and he's still good. All the guys except for [Koda] Glover were available. We have six more days, and now we can pitch toward the off-day [on Sept. 1]." More >
On the spot: With Chris Tillman on the disabled list with shoulder bursitis, O's manager Buck Showalter gave Jimenez a chance to start his first game since July 28. Though he entered with the highest ERA (6.94) among any pitcher in the Majors with at least 90 innings logged, Jimenez seized his opportunity. One of Jimenez's biggest problems this season has been his command, but he didn't issue a walk.
"It felt really good," Jimenez said. "It felt really good to be there for the team when they needed it the most, especially right now that Tilly went down. It felt good that I was able to compete and give them a chance to be close in the score." More >
"It's huge, given [what the Orioles] are over there, they bang it up. You never know what's going to happen," Harper said.
Showalter stays away from Brach: With the Orioles trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the eighth, Showalter could've brought in All-Star reliever Brad Brach to try to keep it a one-run deficit. Instead, Showalter decided to go to Ondrusek, who was recalled earlier Thursday, for a second inning. The move didn't pay off, with Ondrusek allowing three runs to score.
"I don't like him pitching there," Showalter said of Brach. "He's had  outings. We're gonna keep him healthy, and that's not a position that he's pitched in all year, and he's not going to start tonight."
Brach has pitched with the Orioles trailing by a run twice since July 28. In both instances, he kept the score the same, but Baltimore was unable to rally either time.
"The Orioles have a lot of thump in their lineup. The past three nights, I have been really watching them and going through my experience with them. I really came up with a game plan of how I needed to pitch against them -- when to throw the ball in the zone, when to elevate, when to throw below the zone. I just had a great game plan." -- Scherzer
"I think everybody was pulling for him. He's such a good young man, just needed it." -- Showalter, on Jimenez
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Trumbo's stolen base in the eighth inning was the Orioles' second since Aug. 3 and third since June 16. Baltimore's 15 stolen bases as a team represent 13 fewer than the Cardinals, who rank second to last.
JONES CRAMPS UP
Showalter pinch-hit for Jones in the ninth inning after the center fielder was experiencing cramping in his hamstring. After the game, Jones said he was fine and expects to play Friday.
"He felt it earlier in the game, and I just didn't like the description," Showalter said. "I talked to him when he came off the field in the bottom of the eighth. It's just not worth taking a chance, because we really don't have much depth at that position either."
WHAT'S NEXT Orioles: The O's head to New York for a three-game series with the Yankees, beginning Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Yovani Gallardo (4-5, 5.08 ERA) will start the opener, looking for his second win since June 29. In his lone start against the Yankees this season, he allowed four runs over seven innings in a 5-0 loss.
Nationals: The Nats open a three-game series against the Rockies on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will pitch the first game, looking for his 100th career victory. In his last start against the Braves, Gonzalez struck out eight over 5 2/3 innings and singled twice for his first career multi-hit game.