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Detroit — Max Scherzer saw Miguel Cabrera step into the on-deck circle and right away his heart rate ticked up a few beats.

"It was like, 'OK, this is going to be on,'" Scherzer said. "You get pretty excited in the moment."

It was the eighth inning Sunday, an inning Scherzer started with 100 pitches already under his belt. He was protecting a one-run lead and Cabrera was summoned off the bench to pinch-hit. 

"That's full adrenaline right there when you see him get in the box," he said. "That's who you want to face, you want to face the best. Just throw your best pitch and go right after him.

"I have the ultimate respect for what he can do at the plate."

Cabrera nodded and Scherzer nodded back. Four pitches later, the last a slider in the dirt, Cabrera was walking back to the dugout — even though the ball had gotten past the catcher.

It was No. 13 of the 14 strikeouts Scherzer amassed in the Nationals' 2-1 win.  

BOX SCORE: Nationals 2, Tigers 1

"It was fun pitching here again," said Scherzer, who last pitched at Comerica Park as a member of the Tigers on Sept. 25, 2014. "I hadn't pitched here for a while. It's one of the few parks where you have the dirt going all the way to home plate.

"I definitely remember pitching here and it's cool to be back." 

The Tigers lone run came on his 93rd pitch — a 94-mph fastball that Brandon Dixon hit into the first row of seats beyond the right-field wall to tie the game at 1 in the seventh inning.

"With a guy like that, you just look for a pitch to hit," said Dixon, whose 11 homers leads the Tigers. "I got a fastball over the plate. That short porch (in right) helps out every now and then."

But Anthony Rendon untied it in the top of the eighth, slugging a solo home run to right field off reliever Joe Jimenez.

"You just get locked in and you know how to execute," Scherzer said, who gave up just four hits. "It's just being consistent, being consistent with all of your pitches. 

"Just knowing how to execute the fastball and playing off that."

It was his fourth straight double-digit strikeout game and the 90th of his career. He leads all active pitchers with 90 double-digit strikeout performances. It was also his sixth straight win and the eighth consecutive start that he’s allowed two runs or less.

"All his stuff moves really late," Dixon said. "You think it's in one spot and you swing, then you look at the video and you're like, 'Dang, that moved a lot more than I thought.' Plus, every pitch looks the same coming out of his hand. 

"He's a really good pitcher."

Scherzer went into the eighth inning at 100 pitches and 15 pitches later had struck out the side. 

"That's what you put in the work for," he said. "You want to make sure you throw your best pitches late in the game. Today we needed it. It was a 2-1 ballgame. Those, in my mind, were deciding pitches."

On the day, the Tigers swung and missed at 26 of Scherzer's 86 strikes. 

"Scherzer came as advertised," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've seen it before. Just filthy...We were praying that we could wear him down, but that didn't work out.

"He's a warrior. We've all seen it. He's a warrior and he's going to keep pumping it in there and that's what he did."

Scherzer struck out 20 Tigers when he faced them in Washington in 2016. His counterpart that day was Jordan Zimmermann, the ex-National who allowed three runs in seven strong innings that day.

Same story, different season.

"Yeah, that's kind of tough," said Zimmermann, who allowed just one run and four hits over six innings. "But Max is a tough competitor. We knew it was going to be tough to score runs. 

"I think we all knew that coming in. I tried to put up zeroes the best I could."

Rendon figured in the lone run off Zimmermann, too. He led off the fourth inning with a double, the only extra-base hit allowed by Zimmermann, and scored on a two-out single by Kurt Suzuki.

"That's the one pitch I'd want back," Zimmermann said. "It was a slider that I tried to go front-door. Hindsight is 20-20, but that was a dumb pitch on my part."

The kicker is, the Tigers had just missed turning an inning-ending double play on Matt Adams on the pitch before.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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