Game ends with Castellanos in the on-deck circle

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Washington — Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had the American League batting leader on the bench and available to pinch hit Wednesday. But Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer shut the door on a 3-2 win for the Nationals with Nick Castellanos on the on-deck circle.

With no designated hitter in National League ballparks, Ausmus rotated Castellanos, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez through this three-game set. Each sat out one game and played two.

On Wednesday, Cabrera played third base and Martinez first.

Scherzer’s 20-strikeout dominance, as well as another quality start by Tigers Jordan Zimmermann, didn’t leave a lot of pinch-hit opportunities.

There were perhaps two.

The Tigers had runners on second and third in the seventh with one out and James McCann due up. The Tigers trailed 2-1 at the time.

“First base was open,” Ausmus said. “They’d have walked him.”

McCann and Anthony Gose struck out to end the inning.

Castellanos had bat in hand and was ready in the ninth. He was on deck when McCann grounded out to end the game.

“I wanted to use him in a spot where he could tie or win the game,” Ausmus said.

Had pinch-runner Andrew Romine, who was on first after Victor Martinez singled, reached second base, Castellanos would have pinch-hit for McCann. Scherzer didn’t let that happen.

Zimmermann upstaged

Ausmus said it best regarding Zimmermann’s seven strong innings.

“He was very good, another quality start for us,” he said. “But Max was just better.”

Zimmermann showed his trademark grit, getting double-play balls to escape trouble in the first and sixth innings.

“Some of those guys have seen me for six or seven years,” he said. “They know how I set guys up and they know how I pitch. It’s a little more difficult to pitch to guys who’ve seen me for a while.”

In the sixth inning, when he gave up a run on two hits and two walks, it appeared he and McCann were not on the same page. Zimmermann twice called McCann out to the mound to discuss pitch selection.

“It may have looked like me and Mac weren’t on the same page, but (Daniel) Murphy was up there wiggling his bat in front of the signs and I couldn’t see it,” Zimmermann said. “I kept stepping off.”

He received a long and warm standing ovation before his first at-bat.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But it was great. As you can see, the fans really enjoyed what I did here for those years. That meant a lot to me.”

Beating Miggy

Before the game, Scherzer talked about how excited he was to face Miguel Cabrera.

“You measure yourself against the best,” he said. “You measure yourself against Miguel Cabrera.”

He measured well. He struck Cabrera out three times (on three pitches twice) and got him on a line out to left.

“Watching him hit, I wanted to be able to establish inside on him,” Scherzer said. “But I had a couple times tonight where I was able to throw a fastball up and I got a couple swings and misses with two strikes against him. I found some success with that.”

Cabrera represented the tying run when he stepped into the box in the ninth. Scherzer struck him out with heaters.

“That’s the equivalent of staring down the barrel of a gun, to be able to face Miguel Cabrera and throw him three fastballs in a 1-2 count,” Scherzer said. “I’ve seen him before make adjustments in that type of situation. To be able to throw another fastball in that situation, you have to have ultimate belief in yourself.

“I’ve seen him hit pitches out like that in that situation, when you expose yourself. But fortunately I was able to deliver one of my best fastballs of the night to get another strikeout against him. He’s the best hitter in the game and to go against him — that puts a smile on my face. He literally is the best hitter in the game and the fact that I did it, I mean, it’s awesome.”

Twitter: @cmccosky