Going up against a right-hand heavy Arizona Diamondbacks’ lineup on Thursday, in the series finale with the D-Backs in Washington, D.C., Nationals’ right-hander Max Scherzer decided he needed to focus on throwing his changeup more often, as he told reporters after the Nats’ 4-2 win.
“I thought I needed to start incorporating the change-up to righties today,” Scherzer said, as quoted by Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes after the game.
He threw his changeup 15 times, 12 of them for strikes, and got five swinging strikes with the offspeed pitch.
Scherzer also had a tight, sharp-breaking slider working. He threw the slider 33 times, 22 for strikes, and generated 14 swings and 10 swinging strikes.
He held the D-Backs hitless through three and scoreless through six before Jake Lamb jumped on a first-pitch fastball and hit it out to left for the only run Scherzer allowed in seven innings of work on the mound in the nation’s capital, over which he struck out 11 batters.
Dusty Baker was particularly impressed with Scherzer’s slider.
“Max was outstanding,” Baker said after the 4-2 win.
“That’s probably the best slider that he’s had of the season and he located his fastball well, but he had the slider working from the very first inning and when Max has the slider working then that kind of sets up everything else. [Jose Lobaton] called a very good game for him.”
With the win, Scherzer improved to (5-0) in six starts against the team that drafted him in the first round of the 2006 Draft, when current Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo was the scouting director with the D-Backs.
In 41 innings against Arizona, the 32-year-old right-hander now has a 2.41 ERA and a stingy .171/.234/.315 line against in his career.
So does he take the mound with something to prove against his former teams, like the Detroit Tigers, against whom he collected 20 Ks last season?
“You wouldn't be human if you didn't,” Scherzer said, as quoted by ESPN’s Eddie Matz, though he stressed that winning the game is the ultimate motivation.
“Any time you face your old team, you're going to be excited to go out there and get them. But you have to find something that motivates you every single time.”
“You’d be lying if you said it was just another team,” Baker told reporters.
“You especially get psyched against your former team and yeah, he came out strong and he had that look in his eye and you could tell by the opening pitch that he wanted to beat the Diamondbacks.”
Going seven innings, for the third time is six starts, Baker said, was especially helpful for the Nationals’ bullpen as well.
“You can almost go full bullpen the day before he pitches and then usually he gives the majority of the bullpen rest for the next game,” Baker explained.
“He affects it before he pitches and after he pitches and that’s what aces do. Not only do they win and match up against other aces, but they preserve your bullpen.”
Scherzer improved to (4-2) on the year with the win, finishing the day with a 2.66 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 11 walks (2.43 BB/9) and 51 Ks (11.29 K/9) in 40 2⁄3 innings pitched.