MLB

Nationals-Braves Preview

While Max Scherzer's teammates remain in awe over his recent dominance, the right-hander continues going about the business of winning games for the Washington Nationals.

He'll try to win a fourth consecutive start Thursday night against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

Scherzer (9-5, 1.79 ERA) began his stellar three-start stretch by tossing a one-hitter at Milwaukee on June 14, then came within an out of a perfect game before settling for a no-hitter in a 6-0 win over Pittsburgh on June 20.

Six days later, he took a perfect game into the sixth inning then yielded two runs through eight of a 5-2 victory at Philadelphia.

"Every time he goes out there, it seems he's going to be perfect," teammate Matt den Dekker said. "It's fun to watch."

Owner of the second-lowest ERA in the majors, Scherzer has recorded 33 strikeouts over those three starts and hasn't yielded a walk in the last two.

"That's what you pride yourself on - just attacking the zone," Scherzer, whose 0.79 WHIP is by far the lowest in baseball, told MLB's official website. "For me, executing all your pitches now becomes a premium."

He's 5-2 with 1.40 ERA in eight road starts for Washington (43-35), which has lost two of three following an eight-game winning streak.

"Your focus is to win the ballgame," said Scherzer, who last faced the Braves in 2010. "That's the first and foremost thing you have to worry about."

He'll try to help the Nationals rebound after their nine-game winning streak over Atlanta (37-41) ended with Wednesday's 4-1 loss.

A.J. Pierzynski and Juan Uribe hit back-to-back homers to highlight a four-run fourth for the Braves, who have won two of three since a five-game overall slide that began with three consecutive losses to Washington.

Pierzynski is batting .421 (8 for 19) with 10 RBIs in five homes games against the Nationals this season. He hasn't faced Scherzer since 2013 but is hitting .333 (11 for 33) with a double, triple and a home run against him.

The veteran should be catching for highly touted prospect Manny Banuelos, who is expected to make his major league debut in place of the injured Williams Perez - and may help the Braves go 4-0 this season when their pitcher makes his first big league start.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012 and missing all of the 2013 season, the left-hander spent last year in the minors before the New York Yankees traded him to Atlanta in January for fellow pitchers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. Banuelos was 6-2 with a 2.29 ERA in 15 starts for Triple-A Gwinnett this season.

"His makeup is unbelievable, and his mound presence is really good," Braves director of player development Dave Trembley said. "He's learned to pitch off of his fastball. He was a power pitcher coming up. He had the surgery, and he had to learn how to pitch again. He's learned to use his secondary pitches."

One of the challenges Banuelos will face is slugger Bryce Harper, who is hitting .385 in 10 games against the Braves this season. The talented outfielder met with manager Matt Williams after he failed to run hard on a fly ball in Tuesday's 6-1 victory.

"It's important for him to be passionate about the way he plays," Williams said. "In every aspect."

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