Max Scherzer turned down what was reportedly a 6-year/$144M offer from Detroit’s Tigers back in 2014, betting he could find a better deal in free agency, and he did find one, from the Washington Nationals, who signed him to a 7-year/$210M deal that winter.
Scherzer was (82-35) in 161 starts for the Tigers over five seasons (2010-14), with a 3.52 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 305 walks, and 1,081 Ks in 1,013 innings pitched, going to the postseason in four of five seasons (3.73 ERA in 62 2⁄3 IP) though he was never able to bring a World Series to the Motor City.
“It feels like a big regret that we weren’t able to deliver a World Series championship here,” Scherzer told reporters on Friday, as quoted on MLB.com.
“I’ve been talking with [former Tigers’ starter] Aníbal [Sánchez] about it. We all kick ourselves, like, ‘How did we not win the World Series while we were here?’ The teams that we had here, especially in that three-year run between ‘12, ‘13, ‘14. I mean, you play the games of ‘What if?’ still to this day. That’s what also keeps me motivated.”
Whatever else he does to keep himself motivated, it’s working.
Going into Sunday afternoon’s start against his former team, the 34-year-old Nationals’ ace was unbeaten in his previous seven starts, going (5-0), with a 0.92 ERA, eight walks, 69 Ks, and a .179/.226/.268 line against in 49 IP over that stretch.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, who drafted Scherzer in his role as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Director of Scouting in the first round in 2006, and then signed him as a free agent, told 106.7 the FAN’s Sports Junkies this week that everyone watching the Nats’ three-time Cy Young winner on the mound is seeing something special.
“I think that we’re seeing something from a Major League pitcher that we’re very fortunate,” he explained, “... because we get to see this every fifth day and this is historical stuff. This is one of the great pitchers of our time and a Hall of Fame-caliber guy, and a guy who just, he leaves it on the mound each and every day.”
Going up against the Tigers for the first time in Comerica Park, Scherzer struck out nine of the first 17 batters he faced on Sunday, over five scoreless innings, and he got his 10th K in the sixth, but took the mound in the seventh with a 1-0 lead and gave up a one-out homer by Brandon Dixon that tied things up in the series finale, 1-1.
Scherzer returned to the mound in the eighth, after Anthony Rendon homered to put the Nationals back on top, 2-1, and struck out the side in a 15-pitch frame, picking up his 12th, 13th, and 14th strikeouts in what ended up a 115-pitch effort.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 8.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 14 Ks, 1 HR, 115 P, 86 S, 3/3 GO/FO.
In what’s now an eight-start unbeaten streak, Scherzer has a 0.95 ERA in 57 innings.
“He’s been really good this month, but I say this again, he’s been good all year,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters after the 2-1 win in the series finale with the Tigers.
“Now he’s starting to win ballgames, but he’s been unbelievable, he really has.
“The work that he puts in daily, as you can see, it pays off for him every fifth day, so I’m just glad I’m on his side and not watching from the other side, because when he pitches, it’s really, really tremendous.”
The Tigers were on the other side on Sunday, and 14 of the 28 hitters who stepped to the plate against Scherzer went down swinging as he reached double digits in Ks in a fourth straight start and the eighth time this season.
Did pitching in Detroit again motivate the right-hander?
“I think coming back to Detroit, I think it’s just the whole thing of coming back here, he has a lot of good memories here, and coming back here and pitching for the first time, he was excited,” Martinez said.
“It was fun pitching here again,” Scherzer said. “I pitched here for a while, and one of the few parks where you have the dirt going all the way to home plate, so definitely remember pitching here so it was cool to be back here and get to pitch in that game.”
Was there any conversation between manager and starter about sending him back out for the eighth in what was a 2-1 game in the Nationals’ favor, with Scherzer up to 100 pitches?
“That was a very quick conversation,” Martinez said. “He came in, and he goes, ‘I’m feeling really good.’ I said, ‘Okay, you’ve got 115 pitches today,’ so he was good.”
“I knew my pitch count, I knew I had another day coming, so I knew I was good to go to pitch out to the eighth,” Scherzer said.
Fifteen pitches and three swinging strikeouts later, Scherzer was done for the day.