CINCINNATI -- Max Scherzer had given up a leadoff double to Tucker Barnhart leading off in the eighth, then retired Jose Peraza on a popup and fanned Nick Senzel. The nine-pitch at-bat pushed the three-time Cy Young Award winner's pitch count to a season-high 117.
With Joey Votto coming to the plate, Washington manager Dave Martinez walked to the mound. Scherzer shook his head and said he wanted to stay in.
"I've got to hear it from him," Martinez said. "He'd thrown a lot of pitches. We exchanged some non-professional words."
Scherzer struck out Votto on three straight called strikes, freezing him with a 97 mph fastball on the low, outside corner. Scherzer screamed and pumped a fist, spit flying out of his mouth after his 15th strikeout -- his most since May 2018. The Nationals held on for a 4-1 win Sunday.
"I knew I was strong," Scherzer said. "I still had my arm strength. I knew I wanted to stay in."
Scherzer (3-5) allowed three hits -- all doubles -- over eight innings to lead the Nationals to their 12th win in 14 games against the Reds. What was his message to Martinez?
"I'd rather not say," the manager responded with a smile.
Scherzer reached double figures in strikeouts for the fourth time in 13 starts this season and 86th time in his career, the most among active pitchers and seventh-most overall. He retired 13 of his last 14 batters.
"It seems like Scherzer has seven pitches and he can tunnel all of them," Barnhart said. "He sequences them very well. You really have to grind out at bats against him."
Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 12th save in 14 chances. Washington won the final two games of the series after losing the opener and has won seven of nine following a five-game losing streak.
Sonny Gray (2-5) needed 32 pitches to get through the first and gave up two runs and five hits in five innings.
Cincinnati batters struck out 16 times, tying their season high.
Anthony Rendon had three hits, including an RBI single in the first, and raised his average to .331.
Kurt Suzuki doubled the lead with an RBI double in the fourth, but Votto and Derek Dietrich hit consecutive doubles in the bottom half off Scherzer, who had pitched 15 scoreless innings at Great American Ballpark in his career.
Martinez said Nationals have signed RHP Fernando Rodney to a minor league contract and the 42-year-old will report to Triple-A Fresno. The two-time All-Star closer was designated for assignment by Oakland on May 25. He is 48-68 with a 3.79 ERA and 325 saves.
The Reds on Sunday wore replicas of the uniforms worn by the 1919 World Series champions, one of 15 throwback outfits the team will wear this season while celebrating the 150th anniversary of baseball's first professional team.
Votto's fourth-inning double was the 382nd, breaking a tie with Johnny Bench for fourth place on Cincinnati's career list. Davey Concepcion is third with 389.
Votto barehanded Victor Robles's spinning one-hopper to first that took a bad bounce to his right and flipped to Gray covering for a run-saving out to end the fourth inning.
Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman, out since April 28 with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, is to be evaluated Monday.
Reds: Jesse Winker was hit by a pitch on the right foot leading off the second inning. He stayed in the game.
Reds: RHP Luis Castillo (5-1, 2.45) is to start Tuesday's series opener at St. Louis.
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