Dusty Baker was asked last October, after the 2016 regular season finale, if he’d ever managed a starter as talented as Max Scherzer, who won his 20th game of the 2016 campaign that afternoon, and was later named the NL Cy Young award winner.
“He’s — I had Billy Swift, a 20-game winner. John Burkett. I had Jason Schmidt. I had Kerry Wood and Mark Prior,” Baker said.
“He’s the most determined pitcher that I’ve had,” the Nats’ skipper continued. “I think he’s one of the most determined individuals that I know.”
Baker was asked before the second game of four this weekend in Citi Field for a good comparison for Scherzer, and the name he came up with was that of Hall of Fame right-hander Don Sutton, a teammate of Baker’s from his time with the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
After the game, he was asked why Sutton was the first pitcher who came to mind.
“Well, you know, because he’s a great pitcher,” Baker said. “So not only is he a great pitcher, he has a great idea of what he wants to do and he can execute it.
“A lot of guys have an idea what they want to do, but they don’t execute it. I was asked before the game [for] somebody that I played with or whatever that was similar to what I see in Max, and Sutton is in the Hall of Fame, so that’s a pretty comparison.”
Mets’ skipper Terry Collins was impressed by Scherzer as well, while noting that the 32-year-ld righty started off a little shaky in the first few innings before getting locked in.
Collins was asked what he saw that let him know Scherzer was getting comfortable, if it was the pitches themselves, or the swings from his own hitters?
“I see both,” Collins said. “No. 1, his location gets so much better. You watched the way he went about things, and I tell you, he’s not a guy to waste pitches.
“I mean, you better be ready to hit, because he’s coming at you and he’s coming at you with whatever he’s got. He’s not afraid to pound the strike zone, and you just watch him, when you watch his demeanor on the mound, when he starts walking around with that big long pace he’s got, he’s locked in.”
It’s not just the managers who appreciated what they saw, according to Baker, who told reporters that Scherzer’s own teammates let him know that it’s nice to play in games he’s starting.
“It’s very enjoyable,” Baker said. “That’s what I heard [Daniel Murphy] tell Max when we came in off the field. He said, ‘Hey, it’s very enjoyable to watch you pitch,’ ... and his determination and his grit. He was dealing.”
Scherzer piled up the strikeouts when he needed them, induced three grounders for double plays when the Mets got on, and held the opposition off the board until the eighth, when he hung a breaking ball up that Jose Reyes sent out to right for a solo home run and the only run Scherzer allowed.
Baker talked about Scherzer’s ability to pitch to the situation being yet another thing that sets him apart, noting that he is usually a fly ball pitcher, who can get the ground ball outs he needs them by making necessary pitches.
“You have to throw that particular double play pitch accordingly to get a double play,” Baker explained.
“You can’t throw high fastballs and expect to get a double play, but he threw the balls down in the zone, I think two of them were sliders and they were hit sharply enough where we could turn the double plays.
“Max, like all great pitchers, they pitch to the need, you know what they need, they need a strikeout, they go for a strikeout. If they need a pop-out, they pitch for a pop-up. In that particular situation he was pitching for a double play and he got them.”
Baker was asked again last night, following the Nationals’ 7-2 win over the Mets, if Scherzer was the best pitcher he’s managed, and he had a different answer than the one he gave reporters last October.
“Is Scherzer the best pitcher you’ve managed?” the reporter asked.
“Lately,” Baker said.