Max Scherzer has talked openly about holding something back, or at least not showing hitters from Washington's National League rivals everything in Spring Training.
When he faced the AL West's Houston Astros last time out, however, in his third start in Sunday's Grapefruit League matchup in Kissimmee, Florida's Osceola County Stadium, the 30-year-old right-hander used it all.
Scherzer threw 60 pitches total in four scoreless innings in which he gave up just one hit and one walk while striking out three.
"'For me, I went out there with the mentality of, I will give them everything I would during the regular season,'" Scherzer told reporters, including the Washington Post's Chelsea Janes, after the outing.
"'Plus I kind of know these guys from pitching in the American League, so I was really focused on the results today to try to ramp up a little bit and really start preparing for the season even more.'"
Nationals' manager Matt Williams liked what he saw from Scherzer, who signed a 7-year/$210M deal with the Nats this winter after a +5.6 fWAR season in Detroit 2014, in which he was (18-5) in 33 starts, with a 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 63 walks (2.57 BB/9) and 252 Ks (10.29 K/9) in 220 ⅓ IP and five seasons total with the Tigers over which he was (82-35) in 161 starts with a 3.52 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 2.71 BB/9 and 9.60 K/9.
"'Vintage Max today," Williams told the WaPost's Janes. "He threw really good."
Scherzer took the mound this afternoon in Houston's Spring Training home with a 4-0 lead after Danny Espinosa doubled in a run and scored on an RBI single by Tyler Moore off Astros' right-hander Samuel Deduno, who loaded the bases, forced in a run with a walk and then surrendered a sac fly before getting out of the opening frame.
Scherzer's 1st: Scherzer gave up a line drive single to center by Jose Altuve in the first at bat on an 0-2 fastball up in the zone, letter-high outside. Astros' slugger George Springer chased a 1-1 slider outside and popped out to center when Scherzer came right back with another breaking ball away on the next pitch. Luis Valbuena grounded sharply to first, into a 3-6 force at second, but was able to beat the throw back to the covering pitcher at first by Danny Espinosa. Chris Carter fell behind 0-2 in the next at bat, spit on a slider outside, but K'd swinging at a 1-2 fastball in on the hands.
T-Mo: Tyler Moore followed up his first inning single with a two-out double in the second, improving to 12 for 30 on the Spring with six doubles, a triple and a home run in 12 games.
Scherzer's 2nd: Astros' catcher Jason Castro grounded weakly to second on a 1-1 pitch from Scherzer. Jed Lowrie sent Tony Gwynn, Jr. to the warning track on a fly to center on an 0-1 fastball. Colby Rasmus sent on an 0-1 fastball to Mike Carp at first as Scherzer completed a quick scoreless frame. Six straight Astros set down.
Scherzer's 3rd: Jon Singleton lined to right, ripping into a 2-1 fastball from Scherzer and tucking a double just inside the right field line. Astros' center fielder (and former Blue Jays and Marlins' prospect) Jake Marisnick sent a one-hop liner to Kevin Frandsen at third on a knee-high 1-1 slider outside. Jose Altuve was first-pitch swinging, flying out to center for the second out of the frame. George Springer grounded back to the mound and off Scherzer's back foot on a 1-0 fastball, but Scherzer recovered it quickly and threw to first for out no.3 of his third scoreless frame.
5-0 Nats: Bryce Harper was 1 for 2 with a walk and a home run this afternoon and 5 for 21 this Spring after he taking Astros' right-hander Jake Buchanan deeeep to right, over the 390 ft sign in right-center and then some. 5-0 Nationals on Harper's first HR of the Spring.
4th: Luis Valbuena popped up high above home on an 0-1 pitch from Scherzer in the first at bat of the fourth, but Nats' catcher Jose Lobaton lost it in the high Kissimmee sky and had it bounce off his glove and fall into foul territory. Scherzer threw a 1-2 heater by Valbuena to get the strikeout. Chris Carter took a fastball outside for a called strike, chased a breaking ball off the plate, 0-2, spit on a fastball off the plate away, and went down swinging at a breaking ball in the dirt outside. Jason Castro stepped in with two out and got to a full count before homering to left-center on a fly ball that kept carrying. Jed Lowrie K'd swinging at a 1-2 bender to end the fourth. 5-1 Nationals.
5th: Max Scherzer hit Colby Rasmus with a 1-0 fastball in the first at bat of the Astros' fifth. Scherzer fell behind Jon Singleton, 2-0, but geeked up to throw two high fastballs by Houston's slugger, going to a full count before getting him looking with a fastball at the knees outside. Jake Marisnick took a healthy cut at a 2-1 fastball outside and came up empty, then chased a 2-2 slider away for Scherzer's sixth K. Jose Altuve started up 2-0 but lined out to right to end the frame.
Max Scherzer's Line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 Ks, 1 HR, 65 P, 43 S, 5/4 GO/FO.
Max's final line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 6 Ks, 1 HR. He threw 65 pitches, 43 strikes. #Nats— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) March 20, 2015
Xavier Cedeno gave up a line drive single to left by George Springer and a two-run home run by Luis Valbuena in the first two at bats of the Astros' sixth. 5-3 Nationals.
Kila Ka'aihue improved to 4 for 21 with three home runs this Spring with a line drive home run to right off Astros' right-hander Asher Wojciechowski in the seventh.
Jerry Blevins retired the Astros in order in the home-half of the seventh inning.
Houston loaded the bases with Heath Bell on the mound in the eighth, with a walk, single and two errors while Bell was on the mound leading to one run coming across. 6-4 Nats.
A sac fly by Max Stassi with Manny Delcarmen on the mound made it a one-run game, 6-5 Nationals, but Carlos Correa grounded into an inning-ending double play to end the frame.
Delta Cleary, Jr. walked and scored from first on an RBI double to right by Ka'aihue off Astros' lefty Kevin Chapman, 7-5 Nationals.
Manny Delcarmen came back out for more work in the ninth and threw a scoreless frame. 7-5 final.