Max Scherzer’s mixed results (4.47 ERA, .243/.278/.473 line against in 38 IP) in seven starts he made after returning from two separate IL stints (for scapulothoracic bursitis and then a rhomboid strain) which limited him to one outing between July 7th and August 21st, weren’t too surprising, since he’d been clear all along that he was working his way back to 100% so he could be on the mound in top form in October.
But it was a frustrating process for the 35-year-old, three-time Cy Young award winner.
“It was just a confusing injury, because there [were] times where I could recover and get back to 100% and go out there and pitch in a game and I could actually do damage to myself,” Scherzer explained, when he spoke to reporters in advance of his start in the NL Wild Card Game tonight.
“So that’s what the most confusing part about the whole thing, was knowing when I was actually truly 100%.
“But it was something you’ve just got to take in stride, and make adjustments around it.
“There will be bigger adjustments really in the offseason programs to address that, than anything in-season.”
Scherzer’s manager, Davey Martinez, was watching closely throughout his starter’s last few outings, to make sure he was ready to go for tonight’s game before naming him the starter for the Wild Card matchup against the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I watched Max pitch his last few outings and he built up his pitch count, he felt good every outing,” Martinez said.
“He’s been out — we watched his bullpen, monitored him, he’s felt good. The other day he threw an unbelievable bullpen. One of the better ones I’ve seen, so he’s ready to go. We’re fortunate enough to have a Max Scherzer pitch in the Wild Card Game, so it should be a lot of fun.”
Scherzer was clear that at this point, he’s done building, has checked all of the boxes he needed to, and is confident he’s ready to take on the Brewers.
“I put myself in this position to be ready to be able to give whatever I need to give to the team tomorrow,” he explained. “I’ve been up to 100 pitches a couple times now, or at least right there. My arm has responded. I feel like I can execute pitches that deep in the game.
“Sometimes that’s a little learning curve as you’re getting back into it, to be able to execute that deep into a game. I feel like I’m able to do that now, so tomorrow, however Davey will let me pitch, I’ll pitch.”
“He’s getting closer and closer each and every time,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this week.
“It’s a pitch here or there,” he said of the mistakes that have hurt Scherzer in his starts in the past few weeks.
“But the stuff was good. The velocity is there. He gets the swing and misses, and his five-pitch mix, he’s getting sharper and sharper with it. It all starts with fastball command with Max. We’ve got some worries on this team, Max Scherzer is not one of them, believe me.”
Scherzer talked over the last month plus about building to the point where he could go full throttle with each of his pitches, and how it could eventually help him in terms of, “... really figuring out how to get guys out with location instead of having the ability to just rear back and just try to blow somebody away,” as he has in the past.
If he’s back to 100% will he try to apply those lessons, or go full throttle and try to blow the hitters away if he has the stuff to do it now?
“It’s a little of everything,” Scherzer said. “It’s just working with your catcher, working with the scouting report, working with your instincts, and just going out there and executing pitches, try to put the best pitch in the best spot possible to collect outs, that’s the name of the game.”
Getting to take the mound in Nationals Park, where the Nationals have won eight in a row, 9 of 11, and 50 of 81 this season, in a do-or-die game with the Brewers, has Scherzer excited.
“The atmosphere is going to be intense,” he said. “Nats fans have really come out — the game against the Dodgers, the crowd was absolutely nuts for that game, and against the Cubs. We’ve had heartbreaks in both of those games, hopefully tomorrow is different.”
Will going into tonight’s game, having won eight in a row to close out the regular season, give the Nationals momentum heading into their first-ever Wild Card Game?
“I hope it does,” Scherzer said.
“The Brewers have been playing good baseball as well, so we have two good teams playing ball [tonight] with everything on the line.”