Approximately 28 hours out of his second World Series start in the 115th Fall Classic, Max Scherzer was laser focused, and in a no-nonsense kind of mood as he spoke to reporters about going again in Game 5 with the Houston Astros after facing them Game 1 in Minute Maid Park.
“Back in the day,” a reporter asked, “and it was a long time ago, a starting pitcher would go Games 1, 4, and 7. Is that past? Will it ever happen again, and why not?”
“If I remember correctly, didn’t Corey Kluber do that?” Scherzer asked in response.
Narrator: He did.
Of course, Kluber did start Games 1-4-7 in the 2016 World Series. So Max is apparently mentally sharp as well as physically prepared.
“So I guess it’s still possible,” Scherzer said when his memory was confirmed as being accurate.
In Game 1, Scherzer went five innings against the Astros, on 112 pitches, giving up five hits, three walks, and two earned runs, while striking out seven of the 23 batters he faced.
In his postgame comments after the outing, the 35-year-old right-hander talked about the Astros’ hitters grinding out at bats and running his pitch count up to get him out early.
“That lineup is great. They absolutely grinded me, never letting me get in rhythm,” Scherzer said.
“I was having to make pitches out of the stretch from the first inning on, and for me, I just stayed with [catcher Kurt Suzuki].”
“I thought our at-bats early were very, very disciplined,” Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch said in his own post-game presser after the series opener.
“We made him work extremely hard. You look up and he’s in the 60-pitch count after three innings. We pushed him into the 110, 111 range after five. He did win some big at bats, and there’s no sort of moral victory in that.”
Facing the Astros again so soon after seeing them Scherzer said on Saturday, is no easy task, though it is made somewhat less difficult by the fact that the Nationals and Astros don’t play one another often (at least after Spring Training).
“It’s just going to be a challenge,” Scherzer said. “I think the only advantage of this is that I don’t face the Houston Astros that much.
“In the National League that kind of happens a little bit more once you start getting ten at-bats, then I think that kind of equals out, and maybe a hitter gets a little bit more advantage because they understand what you’re going to do to them.
“I still feel that I could execute better and give their hitters just a little bit different look even though they did get to see me pitch against them and what it looks like.
“No matter what, it’s always going to be a battle.”
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez discussed the Astros’ plate discipline after Scherzer’s first start of the series and again heading into tonight’s outing, explaining that all of his pitchers need to throw strikes against Houston’s hitters.
“Yeah, when we talked about this coming into the series — that they don’t chase,” Martinez said.
“So we’ve got to attack the strike zone, we really do, and let them make good pitches.
“They’re going to swing, as well. If the ball is over the plate, they’ll swing. But we’ve got to stay in the strike zone, especially early in the count, and get ahead.”
Scherzer had 24 pitches (16 fastballs) fouled off in that first outing, and he talked about having to bounce sliders and changeups in the dirt while trying to avoid leaving pitches out over the plate against such dangerous hitters, as he tried to limit the damager after giving up a couple runs in the first, though he said the Astros’ hitters will ultimately dictate how much he’s able to pound the zone.
“The game will dictate that. The scoreboard will dictate that,” he explained.
“You’ve got to just get into the flow of the game, and understand where everything’s at, where you’re at in the lineup, who’s up, score of the game, inning, pitch count, you name it.
“That all just goes into the same thing. You just have to have your instincts out there and work with the catcher and just figure out what you want to do.”
With the Nationals ahead 2-1 when he spoke, Scherzer was asked if he’d allowed himself to consider that he could be pitching in a decisive game, or at the very least trying to avoid a loss that would leave his team behind if they have to head back to Houston.
“Yeah, you’re human,” he said, acknowledging that he had considered it.
“But, no, because I played enough baseball in this game and anything can happen. So at this point in time you literally just live and breathe each and every day. At this point in time it’s just one day at a time. You really -- that’s a cliche, but man, is that so true that for us -- for me, it’s just coming here and watching Game 4, watching to see what happens and just react to that. And then when it’s Game 5 just, hey, stay in the moment, understand what you’re doing, feel the game flow, use your instincts and just pitch.”
Scherzer knows now that he’s going to be taking the mound with the series tied at 2-2.