“I got a text from [Max] Scherzer last night,” Yan Gomes told reporters after he was traded to the Washington Nationals from the Cleveland Indians earlier this month, “and that to me felt like it spoke to the whole organization and the kind of place I’m going into. He seemed really excited, and I just told him I’m ready to get working.”
“I had a friend who was texting me who [asked], ‘Hey, are you guys getting Yan Gomes?’” Scherzer explained when he was asked about the conversation with one of his two new catchers.
“And like I hadn’t heard any reports, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, he says the deal could be done.’”
“And I reached out [to Gomes],” Scherzer continued, “and I was like, ‘Hey, is this done?’ And so he said, ‘Yes.’ And that was good. And then [Nationals’ GM Mike] Rizzo texted me and he was like, ‘Hey, deal is done, why don’t you text him?’”
“I go, ‘Riz, I know people. I’m ahead of you. I know you’re important, but I can get to the other players in the league.’”
Scherzer, 34, finished his fourth season in D.C. with a 2.53 ERA, a 2.65 FIP, 51 walks (2.08 BB/9), 300 Ks (12.24 K/9), and a .187/.247/.332 line against in 33 starts and 220 2⁄3 innings pitched.
He said he was excited to get to work with two new catchers in 2019, after the Nationals signed Kurt Suzuki and acquired Gomes, though he doesn’t know them personally yet.
“Not on a personal level,” Scherzer said, “but I’m excited. When you get some fresh faces in here and you get some new ideas about what’s going on in the rest of the league and how they’re looking at guys and how they’re preparing. I go back to — working with [Matt] Wieters was great. I really thought he really helped me. He really pushed the envelope of what he was thinking, what I was thinking, and made us better. And I really enjoyed working with him. I’m sad to see him go, or not to be brought back, but this is baseball, things move on, and here we are with the opportunity to have two veteran catchers, who come from — with Kurt, he’s been around in the league, so he’s seen a lot of things, so I’m excited to see what he thinks and continue to work with him. Because the fun will start really in the second half with those guys, because the first half it takes a while to really know what’s going on, to get on the same page, but the second half that’s when you really figure out where we’re at.”
Scherzer has, of course, adjusted to several new catchers in his time in the Nationals’ rotation, with changes behind the plate fairly regularly since he signed a 7-year/$210M contract in 2015.
“You’re always developing trust,” Scherzer said. “Go back to [Wilson Ramos] and to [Wieters], there’s times we’re yelling at each other, even in year two, because we both think we’re right in certain situations, and I want my catchers to be right. There’s times, when they’re convicted with something and I’m wrong, I want them to bring that to my attention, so that’s a very important part of the relationship. That’s something that you always try to foster. That, ‘Hey, we’re both going to be going at it, and if you’re prepared, and you know what you’re doing, bring me up to speed on how you see the game.’
“And so I think that’s important. I think especially with two new guys here, we have a great opportunity to continue to get better. Continue to learn the game in a different way, from their vantage point.”
Scherzer also said he’d get a chance to pick Suzuki’s brain about the Atlanta Braves and their approach after they grinded out at bats while the catcher was with the Nationals’ divisional rivals the last two seasons.
“It’s two-fold,” Scherzerz explained.
“Yes, it’s going to be great, I think. We need to chase down the Braves and we just stole their catcher, and I’ll know basically how they’re preparing for me, so that’s, obviously the easy answer is, great.
“But the grinding part, that’s more of the personnel. Their personnel, you’re talking about Freddie [Freeman] and [Nick] Markakis, and those guys, those at bats were — that’s their MO, and that’s their DNA of being able to really work out an at bat, and so for me that’s where, I can have Kurt tell me everything, but if that’s their DNA, that’s their DNA.”
Scherzer was asked if there’s anything he’s planning on tweaking as he prepares for the 2019 campaign, coming off two straight Cy Young awards (2016-17) and a second-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting for 2018.
“There was a little tweak that I made to the curveball that I feel like helped sharpen it up a little bit,” he said, “and I actually started throwing a backdoor cutter last year to the lefties, and I thought — because that’s a really difficult pitch for me to execute, and I was able to finally start executing that a little bit. So I think that’s something that I can continue to grow as I get more feel of it, and for me, learning that pitch, not only to execute it glove-side, but maybe if I can start executing it glove-side, something that I started last year, and who knows, maybe it stays the same, maybe I get better at it. It’s one of those things, — those are the little things that you think about of what can you do in between now and Spring Training.”
His pitching coach has some ideas of things that need to be improved upon next season.
“He can keep the ball in the ballpark a little better,” Derek Lilliquist said after his first year working with Scherzer.
“He got hurt by a lot of bad breaking balls in kill counts last year, so that’s going to be an area that we’re really going to put a thumb on in Spring Training, is that you need to execute — I mean, he strikes the world out, obviously — but it could have been even better than that had he executed kill breaking pitches in that count.”
Eight of the 23 home runs Scherzer gave up last season came on fastballs, with six on his cutter and five on his slider according to Fangraphs.
“That’s the one — predominantly — that’s what he got hurt on was a hanging slider that he didn’t get to the right spot,” Lilliquist said. “Hitters are so good at judging the 17 inches of the plate, but they’re not real good at judging on the plate and underneath the strike zone, and that’s where he needs to go with it. That’s not corner-off, because corner-off they judge, they recognize spin and corner-off is a ball, but if it’s center-cut in the strike zone and goes underneath the strike zone, that’s where they have problems.”