Scherzer embraces spotlight for Game 5 vs. Dodgers

WASHINGTON - - Max Scherzer was asked last year about impending free agent pitchers that his team could sign during the annual Washington Nationals WinterFest event.

"It is all about winning," Scherzer said. "When you get to the park and you come into the clubhouse, your only thought is about winning and what it takes to do that. There are times, off the field, you are making decisions ... that has to subside when you walk through the clubhouse."

Scherzer has been all about winning since he signed a seven-year contract with the Nationals prior to the 2015 season.

The right-hander from St. Louis will have a chance to elevate Washington to new heights on Thursday night when he takes the mound at home in the fifth and deciding game of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"This will probably be the biggest start of my career," Scherzer told reporters in Los Angeles. "I've said that a few times in my life, but I think this will be it. You're going to get the absolute best out of everybody on both teams."

The Nationals have a chance to win their first postseason series Thursday.

Washington lost Game 5 at home to the St. Louis Cardinals of the NLDS in 2012 and fell in four games to the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS two years later.

The last time a baseball team in Washington won a postseason series was when the Senators beat the New York Giants in Game 7 of the 1924 World Series in the nation's capital.

Scherzer was the starter and loser in Game 1 on Friday at Nationals Park. He gave up four runs in six innings with five strikeouts as the Dodgers won 4-3 in a game started by Clayton Kershaw.

The Washington ace allowed a solo homer in the first inning to Corey Seager and a two-run shot to Justin Turner in the third. Scherzer allowed 31 homers during regular-season play, and several times it was unlikely players who went deep.

Scherzer is 4-4 with a 3.93 ERA in 13 postseason games, with 11 starts. He has 85 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings in his playoff career.

Rich Hill, who will get the nod for the Dodgers, lost in Game 2 on Sunday at Nationals Park after his start was rained out Saturday. Hill pitched in 25 games out of the bullpen in 2015 with Triple-A Syracuse, the top farm club of the Nationals.

The lefty surrendered a three-run homer to Jose Lobaton in the fourth inning of Game 2 that gave Washington a 3-2 lead. Hill allowed six hits and four runs in 4 1/3 innings and was tagged with the loss.

The Nationals could also see rookie right-hander Julio Urias, who has not pitched in the series.

Hill took the blame for the Game 2 loss.

"I believe we're tied in this series because I didn't execute," he said after Game 2. "I'm really disappointed. I thought that game was going to play well for me personally to put us in a good position to win and I didn't execute. It's all solely on me."

Acquired in a trade with the Oakland A's in August, Hill is now 0-2 with an 8.59 ERA in two postseason starts. His other playoff start came when he played for the Chicago Cubs in 2007 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, when he went just three innings. That was one year after he pitched for manager Dusty Baker with the Cubs in 2006.

The Dodgers forced a Game 5 with a 6-5 win at home on Tuesday in Game 4. Kershaw started on short rest and did not figure in the decision. He was lifted with two outs in the seventh.

"I felt really good about it until the last four minutes," Kershaw told reporters. "It's a weird feeling. But you've just got to swallow your pride a little bit and realize we won the game and be excited about it and get ready to go back to D.C."

Said Baker about Game 5: "I know Kershaw ain't pitchin'. Thank God."

Scherzer won his 20th game of the season in the regular-season finale at home against the Miami Marlins on Oct. 2 in a playoff tuneup.

On Thursday he will try to send the Nationals to their first postseason series win.

"Going to be a heck of a ballgame," Scherzer said. "Those are two great teams."