Twelve minutes into his first press conference of the Spring, new Washington Nationals' manager Dusty Baker was asked who his Opening Day starter was going to be? Would it be Max Scherzer?
"Man, how are you going to ask me this question?" Baker said with a laugh. "We haven't really discussed it... but it lines up where Scherzer I think is pitching first, but I've got to talk to [Mike] Maddux after that."
Scherzer was asked if he'd given the possibility that he could throw back-to-back no-hitters if he threw one on Opening Day any thought?
"I'm not throwing a no-hitter Opening Day," Scherzer said. "I can't -- it's just not going to happen. Those things -- you're on such a pitch count the first three starts that you don't want to go anything deep-- "
"I'm sure Matt [Williams] was terrified at that possibility?" a reporter joked.
"I was terrified of that possibility. You really don't want to be at that 100-105 mark that first start, you don't want to push anything with it."
Scherzer threw a lot of innings early last summer and he struggled to keep the ball in the yard late in his first season with the Nationals, giving up 10 homers in 132 innings before the All-Star break and 17 in 96 ⅔ IP in the second-half. He didn't tire, he said yesterday, but he did have other problems.
"I felt, physically, strong as I ever have been in the second half," Scherzer explained.
"I just felt like I dealt with a couple other things that led to kind of the ball flattening out and I was getting hit around a little bit more than I was in the first half, so it left a sour taste in my mouth for the second half, but at the same time I think it's showing me how to get better and that's what I look forward to coming into Spring and trying to put that into results."
Scherzer threw two no-hitters, finished (14-12) in 33 starts and put up a 2.79 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, 34 walks (1.34 BB/9), 276 Ks (10.86 K/9) and a .205/.242/.358 line against in 228 ⅔ innings.
"I was really proud of -- it was a career-high in first-pitch strikes and a career-low in walks," Scherzer said.
[ed. note - "His 71.3% first-strike percentage was MLB's highest among qualified pitchers, and his 1.34 BB/9 were the second-lowest league-wide... amongst qualified starting pitchers."]
"I really attacked the zone at a really high rate last year," Scherzer continued, "and that's what I was really, really happy -- that I had that consistency to be able to throw a strike whenever I needed to.
"That's something that you look at early here in Spring Training to see if I can't get back on that program."
Scherzer talked when asked if he focused on getting in shape or working on "stuff" in Spring Training about how he used his time in Viera?
"It's both," he explained. "There [are] things I'm going to work on. You try to perfect a certain pitch. You're trying to find situations where you're going to use your pitches a little different. I might use my curveball in a different situation.
"Might use my changeup. You try to find different situations, you don't want to just continue to do the same thing because that's where hitters will figure out that pattern and beat you.
"So you've got to be trying to do new things, but you don't get caught up in results. I think that's the biggest thing.
"Even as a player, sometimes you want to have good results and you don't need good results in Spring, you need to have good feel."
Impressive as the first year of his 7-year/$210M deal with the Nationals was, Scherzer said he had time to look back on it this winter, and now is ready to move on.
"I reflected on it the whole offseason, so I'm just ready to get out there and start facing hitters. That's the biggest thing, is getting out there and getting back into the swing of things and trying to see how much feel you have with all of your pitches and that just comes with going out there and facing guys for real."
[ed. note - "Audio of Max Scherzer's Spring Training interview via the Washington Nationals."]