Max Scherzer was clear from the start this Spring that there is no way he is going to throw back-to-back no-hitters after he ended the 2015 campaign with one against the New York Mets in Citi Field.
"I'm not throwing a no-hitter Opening Day," Scherzer said firmly early in Spring Training. "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-- "
Scherzer finished the first year of his 7-year/$210M deal (14-12) with 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, over which he was worth 6.4 fWAR.
A reporter asked the 31-year-old right-hander this weekend what stats he looks at while assessing his success on the mound?
"I think you look at everything," Scherzer said. "You take everything with a grain of salt. So even if you talk about the sabermetric numbers, you take those with a grain of salt as well.
"So, I don't think there is any number out there that really puts everything together. I know -- I think we think WAR does that, but I think there are still things it's missing.
"But, I don't know, you've just got to take everything with a grain of salt, you don't say anything is the gospel."
He was asked how close, with all the info available, fans and writers following the sport are able to get to what he is looking at and getting out of the data that is out there?
"You're close," he said. "You're close. It's just a matter of taking that data and applying it to what I do. There's a next step in there that you're missing, But you're very close with all the data."
Scherzer talked about how he takes advantage of the information that is available to major league pitchers these days.
"Without revealing what I actually do, I'm able to take some of the data that's out there and apply it to what I actually want to achieve out of it, and I feel like that's what I've been able to really hone in and define throughout all the just huge amounts of data that there is -- it's unbelievable what's actually out there -- to try to find what specifically works for me and what specifically is going to get me the best results."
The biggest change in preparation over his eight major league seasons, Scherzer explained, is the additional data that allows pitchers to take advantage of hitters' tendencies.
"I think where we've really seen the biggest increase [is in] how we position everybody," he said.
"Now we know exactly how they're hitting the ball, how long the ball is in the air.
"We know everything, so based upon those type of spray charts, you're able to put guys in positions that you know you're going to have confidence that they're going to hit the ball most often in these spots."
His preparation for the 2016 campaign involved getting to know new Nationals' pitching coach Mike Maddux, who, Scherzer said, is unique among the pitching coaches he's had throughout his career.
"He has a different few ideas of what to look at," Scherzer explained. "I think it's going to really help me as we keep going forward. And that's where I'm anxious... now I really get to work with Mike now.
"In Spring Training, there are so many pitchers, you don't have a lot of time with your pitching coach, but now as the season goes, this is when you really get into the thick of things of how you handle different hitters, what everybody sees and try to get on the same page. I've tried to tell him my theories of pitching, what I want to accomplish out of different scenarios so that if I reveal my playbook maybe he can help me out a little bit better."
"I think what makes him unique of any of the pitching coaches I've had in my career," Scherzer continued, "is that he really talks to us about the mental side of the game and the fine tunings of what it takes to try to be as successful as possible."
Dusty Baker talked this weekend about the danger of facing teams like the Atlanta Braves that Scherzer is going up against in the season opener, or the 2016 Philadelphia Phillies.
Atlanta is not expected to compete in the NL East, but they can certainly affect the way things go in the division. No one with the Nationals is taking them lightly, Baker explained, in part because there are so many unknowns.
"Those teams are very dangerous because you don't know how to pitch them," Baker said.
"You might tell your pitcher to keep the ball down and this guy is a low ball hitter and he hits you out of the park and beats you with it, before you find out he's a low ball hitter.
"Just like September call-ups. September call-ups are more dangerous than anybody."
Scherzer agreed with Baker's assessment.
"There's some unpredictability about it, but at the same time you'll get to know what their strengths are pretty quickly.
"Even though you might run into a scenario where you don't necessarily know what pitch is going to work best in a certain situation, within a few at bats you start figuring out what is going to be successful against that hitter and you keep hitting that over and over and over until they make an adjustment."
Scherzer said he is approaching the first start of the season like he would any other start and the final preparations begin the day before the outing.
"It's just the day before. You've got a wealth of information from everything you did last year that you're going try to take into [account] and how you're going to attack them at the beginning of the season. See where you think they're different and where they're exactly the same.
"You can have a scouting report, but everything changes once you go out there into a game."
Getting the nod on Opening Day, he explained, is an honor.
"It's a really cool thing to be an Opening Day starter, because the Opening Day is kind of a celebration of baseball, it's a kickstart to the year, so to be a part of that and to be on the mound for Game 1, it's really cool."
He doesn't, however, get nervous, or get goosebumps, thinking about taking the mound again for the season opener.
"I've never really gotten nervous to play baseball. I don't know. I'm always excited. I always want the ball.
"I always relish the opportunity to get out there and play. So the fact that -- it's more anxiousness to get out there than goosebumps."
Scherzer doesn't have to wait long. Game 1 of 162 starts at 4:10 PM EDT this afternoon in Turner Field.