WASHINGTON — For someone who seems to thrive when challenged, Max Scherzer was in his element Wednesday night.
This time, the challenge Scherzer faced was his own face — after he suffered a broken nose while taking batting practice a day earlier.
Sporting what manager Dave Martinez called “a nice shiner,” the right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings and struck out 10 in leading the Washington Nationals to a 2-0 victory and a doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Nationals didn’t commit to Scherzer starting the nightcap until they could examine the swelling around his right eye where the foul bunt hit him. No problem, Scherzer assured them.
“Trust me, this thing looks a lot worse than it actually feels,” Scherzer said. “I felt zero pain. There’s been plenty of other injuries where I felt a lot of pain I had to pitch through. I’ll hang my hat on those starts, but tonight I felt zero pain so this is … part of what you have to do.”
Scherzer (6-5) stared down the Nats’ NL East rivals with one black-and-blue eye and one brown eye, looking even more menacing than ever and topping out at 98 mph with his fastball.
“He was phenomenal,” Martinez said. “I didn’t think the eye thing was going to be an issue or the nose. And he proved it.”
Brian Dozier gave the Nats an early lead with a solo homer in the second inning off Phillies starter Jake Arrieta (6-6), his 12th home run of the season — to pair with one he hit in a 6-2 victory in the opener.
But the day belonged to Scherzer.
“It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in a while,” Dozier said. “He’s probably the best pitcher in our generation and you don’t get that status unless you take the ball every fifth day — it doesn’t matter if you’re doing good or doing bad, got a broken nose, you always want the ball.”
Then Scherzer put his (broken) nose to the grindstone and powered through 117 pitches in seven innings. After getting a runner to third base in the first inning, the Phillies couldn’t mount another threat against Scherzer until the seventh, when Cesar Hernandez ripped a lead-off double over the head of right fielder Adam Eaton.
“In that particular moment in the game, he’s the guy you want out there,” Martinez said. “I didn’t look at him. I didn’t want to look at him. He didn’t look in the dugout. I just said it was his game and he did what he wanted to do.”
With the tying run at second base, the three-time Cy Young Award winner struck out Brad Miller, Andrew Knapp and pinch-hitter J.T. Realmuto to finish with a flourish.
Wander Suero pitched a scoreless eighth, Victor Robles added an insurance run with a homer and Sean Doolittle nailed down the save, but the night belonged to Scherzer and his hard-nosed performance.
Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner.