Max Scherzer is the gift that keeps giving. Through three seasons of the 7-year/$210M free agent deal he signed with the Washington Nationals in January of 2015, the Nats’ ace has two no-hitters, a 20-strikeout start, and two NL Cy Young awards (the second and third of his career), and after a season in which he dealt with a variety of injuries, he’s finally 100% healthy and determined to get better in 2018.
After a frustrating season that ended with a rough relief outing in Game 5 of the NLDS with the Chicago Cubs, Scherzer earned his third career Cy Young, which he told reporters helped to take away the sting of how his tenth major league campaign came to a close.
“It just kind of helped make me forget about 2017 and how that ended,” Scherzer said, “so at least right now when I think about baseball it’s happy.”
Scherzer was also happy, he said, at WinterFest in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last weekend, to put the injury issues he dealt with last season behind him after dealing with a stress fracture in the ring finger of his right hand, neck cramps, and calf and hamstring injuries.
“I was battling some nagging injuries throughout the whole year,” Scherzer explained.
“Nothing that could truly knock me out, but enough to constantly have to be paying attention to stuff. But once I got to the offseason, finally I felt 100% healthy.”
“It feels great to be throwing a baseball 100% healthy,” Scherzer said, “and actually be able to go through my full offseason regimen and not be inhibited in any way, so I’m itching to get back out there in 2018.”
When he does get back out there for the start of his fourth season in D.C., there will be a third new manager in the nation’s capital, and a new pitching coach to work with and get to know.
“Any time you don’t meet expectations, that’s what can happen to your manager,” he said when asked about the Nationals moving on from Dusty Baker.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but that’s just what happens,” Scherzer continued.
“This is baseball. This is what happens when you play the game at the highest level, decisions like that can be made, but I think that [GM] Mike [Rizzo], and what he was able to do in finding a candidate like Dave [Martinez], he assembled a staff that he feels that we can go out there and really compete and continue to grow.”
Baseball players are used to change anyway, the 33-year-old right-hander said, so he looks at it as another opportunity to get a new perspective on his stuff.
“This is just another opportunity to learn from a different set of eyes, and a different mindset, and someone who has been across the diamond from me and has had to prepare against me, now can kind of share what he sees and what little tics I do have. So this is an opportunity for us to kind of learn about ourselves and get better, and as much as it does suck to lose your manager and part of your coaching staff, you also have to look at this as glass half full and try to get better.”
He also said that he hasn’t talked to new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist yet, and does not really need to until they get to Spring Training and into the season.
“I have my routines, I know what I’m trying to accomplish, I know what I need to do to get ready for Spring Training,” Scherzer said.
“The fun with your pitching coach really doesn’t start till about June, when you’ve had a few bad starts, and he’s made a few bad decisions, you’ve made a few bad decisions, and you can start pushing blame on each other.”
As good as he’s been, Scherzer said that he’s always looking for ways to improve his game, though he said he wasn’t interested in sharing what he’ll be working on this winter.
“You’ve got to get better, every single year, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s a new year, you have to find a way to improve yourself. You have to look back on everything that you’ve done and critique yourself, and find the holes in your game that can continue to get better. I’m not going to tell you what that is, you guys have to watch. I’m not going to tell you and have the rest of the hitters in the league listen to my quotes and go out there and look for it, so you have to have a little surprise.”
And has he thought about the injury issues he dealt with, and how he can avoid having the same (or new issues) cause problems in 2018?
“Doing the neck exercises and sleeping on a pillow prevents the neck injury,” Scherzer joked.
“Not throwing down and way to Travis Shaw saves your calf, and then coming off it that kind of, I feel like, led to the hamstring injury, so I guess that’s what I learned.”