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Nationals' starter Max Scherzer on progress with his cutter, his role as mentor

Washington Nationals' right-hander Max Scherzer is hard at work preparing for his second season in D.C. He talked this week about the progress of his cutter, critiquing his fellow pitchers and improving however you can with the help of his teammates.

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

As he drove to the airport following his introductory press conference with the Washington Nationals last winter, veteran righty Max Scherzer called his agent Scott Boras, as New York Times' writer Tyler Kepner reported last Spring.

Coming off an (18-5) season with the Detroit Tigers in 2014 in which he made 33 starts, posting a 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 63 walks (2.57 BB/9) and 252 Ks (10.29 K/9) in 220 ⅓ IP, Scherzer signed a 7-year/$210M deal with the Nats.

"It always takes three years to learn a pitch and now I'm in year two of it, so I'm going to continue to learn new things that I can do with it..." -Max Scherzer on continuing to work on his cutter

Having just signed the deal, Scherzer, explained, he was already hard at work on improving his repertoire:

"'Wait till you see my new cutter,' Scherzer reportedly told Boras. He was focused on refining the pitch and getting comfortable using it.

"He said his philosophy was simple," Kepner wrote. "Nobody stays the same, so the choice is easy.":

"'That’s kind of my motto right now,' Scherzer said. 'You either get better or you get worse. So for me, I’m focused, in every way, on getting better.'"

Scherzer finished his first season with the Nationals (14-12) with a 2.79 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, 34 walks (1.34 BB/9) and 276 Ks (10.86 K/9) in 228 ⅔ innings, following up on a 5.2 fWAR campaign in his fifth year in Detroit with a career-best 6.4 fWAR season with Washington.

He threw just thirty-six cutters according to, holding hitters to a .111 AVG with the pitch, which he threw at an average of 89.2 mph.

Scherzer talked earlier this week about the progress he's made with pitch when he spoke to reporters upon arriving in Viera, Florida for the start of his second season in D.C.

Washington Post writer James Wagner wrote last Spring that former Arizona Diamondbacks' teammate Dan Haren told Scherzer it took three years to learn his own cutter, and said Nationals' ace should just, "keep experimenting and find a way to get better."

So how is it coming along?

"Like I said, it always takes three years to learn a pitch and now I'm in year two of it, so I'm going to continue to learn new things that I can do with it and try to find what situations it works best in," Scherzer said, "and see if I can't even find some new situations where I can throw it and that's where -- like I said for Spring, that's what you look forward to trying to be able to find out."

While he's continuing to work on the pitch, Scherzer's also adjusting to a new role and some of the responsibility that comes with having the most major league experience and being the oldest member of the Nationals' rotation.

"I'm kind of in a different role now. Now I'm 31, now I'm the old guy on the staff and now I've got to help these young bucks out, but I'm fine with that." -Max Scherzer on adjusting to his new role with the Nationals

"I'm kind of in a different role now," he explained. "Now I'm 31, now I'm the old guy on the staff and now I've got to help these young bucks out, but I'm fine with that. For these guys, I know what it's like to be coming in the major leagues and what mindset they have and what mindset they need and there's little differences between both and that's where it's just going to be your conversations on back fields or in Spring Training games are just finding different things that everybody needs to work on and critiquing each other and figuring out what pitch can they get better at, but more importantly to let them watch me to see what pitch I need to be better at, because that's the best learning you have is when you actually learn each other, and when you actually get feedback from other pitchers."

Talking to, critiquing and learning from his rotation mates is something Scherzer's talked about before as an important factor in improving his own game and he's had some fairly impressive mentors along the way in his own career.

"I've been part of great rotations," he said. "When I came up I had Randy Johnson, Haren, [Brandon] Webb, all of those guys there in Arizona that I got to learn from and then obviously there in Detroit with [Justin] Verlander, [Rick] Porcello, [Anibal] Sanchez, those guys, it was just guys that that we could -- you could talk pitching with and you kind of critique each other, you kind of figure out -- a lot of times with [Porcello] there was times we were talking about different things, how you use a pitch in a certain situation and he would get feedback from me and I'd get feedback from him.

"That's the type of stuff that I want to be able to make sure that these young guys understand, you've got to be able to critique everybody, you've got to be able to critique yourself and your teammates because that's what makes you better."

Dusty Baker told reporters today that he watched Scherzer from afar before this season, and now he's getting an up-close look at the work the right-hander puts in to prepare.

"I didn't know anything about Scherzer, to tell you the truth," he said.

"I had watched him in Detroit, I know he was animated, big-time and then I watched him last year and I wanted to see how he was going to adjust to this league and it looked like he had to make a couple of adjustments. And I was talking to him, early he was coming, getting ahead of them and then the league adjusted to him and then he had to adjust back to them.

"That's what the whole thing is about, is making adjustments. Most of the time, when you don't know a pitcher, I think advantage pitcher. If no one knows him. So this is going to be a period of adjustment back. But this guy, I mean, he studies and he has a lot of help here and he is going to be a big winner. And the guys like playing behind him.

"That helps a lot too and then there's other guys that are learning from him. I think that [Stephen] Strasburg is probably -- him and [Joe] Ross and all those guys are going to take a tip and a cue from him."