Max Scherzer threw 95 pitches in five innings on Thursday, in his next-to-last start before Opening Day, striking out nine batters in what ended up an 8-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Scherzer allowed three hits, three walks and two earned runs, both of them in the first, when the Cards loaded the bases with no one out and got a two-out, two-run double from center fielder Tommy Pham.
"He battled," Nats' skipper Dusty Baker said after the game.
"That's Scherzer though, you know. He was getting underneath his breaking ball a little bit. He wasn't real sharp, but he was sharp enough to get them out.
"He's going to have those days he throws a lot of pitches in a short period of time, but he battled.
"We thought he was going to to get out of that inning after he got bases loaded and then struck out a couple guys and then Pham hit one up the middle, or else he wouldn't have given up anything. He threw well enough for us to win and that's what matters."
Two of the three hits he allowed came in the first and the 31-year-old right-hander settled in after that.
"I think today there were some things that I did really good and there were some things that I didn't do as well," Scherzer told reporters.
"I wasn't as efficient. When you're walking three guys, I mean that's just inexcusable. And I think I fell behind quite a few guys as well. That's just something that I know I have control over and I've got to be better at pounding the zone and being in those 1-2 counts not being in the 2-1 counts, but at the same time it's something that can easily be fixed, but at the same time you've got to like where all my pitches are at, how everything is moving. I am able to throw all of the offspeed pitches for strikes, so it's something I can build off of."
"We don't expect him to be mid-season form in February or March," Baker said.
"He's going to get better and better and better and better, especially with his pitches. I mean, if you have everything together at this point, you're going to be unhittable. Especially if you have your breaking ball together at this point.
"That's more of a feel pitch. The guys that have their breaking balls together early like this down here, they can't be hit because the hitters aren't ready to hit breaking balls. They're ready to hit fastballs, because your eyes haven't had enough reps to adjust to the speed difference. And so I ain't worried about Max.
"You guys ain't worried about Max, are you?"
Scherzer isn't worried. He said he just ran into some trouble.
While Baker doesn't expect him to be in mid-season form in February or March, Scherzer reiterated that he's happy with his offspeed stuff and expects to be ready for the regular season by the next time he takes the mound.
"They're all breaking in the way I want them and I'm able to throw them for strikes, I just ran into the foul ball game today, where it was long ABs and just not putting guys away," he explained.
"That just comes from not pitching efficiently. I know what it takes to do that and that's something -- you look at this start -- this is a big start before the season cause now I get to tinker and then I get one more practice and we're for real.
"I know the onus was on this start to get everything going so I could tinker so that I need to be in midseason form by next start."
Asked, specifically, what it is he needs to work on before and during his last Grapefruit League outing, Scherzer said it was just being more efficient.
"Really it's just the efficiency. What I've been kind of alluding to. Just pounding the zone. Just constantly working ahead in the count. That was something that I did so well last year, where I get into grooves and I can get into cruise control mode and just constantly be 0-1, 1-2.
"When you can do that you're going to be successful. If you're falling behind 1-0 and 2-1, you're in trouble. And there were just too many counts today where I was falling behind and that's something that obviously I'm aware of but it's something I need to address within these next five days so that I'm good to go for the next one and obviously the opener."
Getting the nod, though Baker has yet to officially name him the Opening Day starter, is an honor, Scherzer said, but it's not necessarily a big deal.
It's cool," he told reporters. "But I think it's cooler for you guys to talk about. For me, it's just going out there and doing what I have to do. And that's just pitching deep into a ballgame and trying to help the team win.
"We all get 33 starts, so the fact that you're starting Opening Day or you're the fifth starter, you're just as important. So, that's where, it's nice to get that nod, but at the end of the day it really doesn't mean much."