“Typically your last 15 pitches of your outing typically determine how the outing goes,” Max Scherzer told reporters, after the Washington Nationals’ 34-year-old right-hander gave up a leadoff double by César Hernández in the top of the seventh inning of his start against the Philadelphia Phillies back on May 19th, then struck out the next three batters he faced, all of them swinging, on the final fifteen of 117 pitches he threw in what was a 1-0 game. It ended up a 2-0 win for Scherzer and the Nats.
“Tonight, César was able to lead off with the double,” the three-time Cy Young award winner said.
“And you kind of get backed into a corner there, in a tight spot. They had a couple lefties coming up [Brad Miller and Andrew Knapp], and I was able to execute some pitches there to get some big strikeouts when we needed them because it prevented the runner from ever getting to third so they could ever score the run without getting a hit, and then when [J.T.] Realmuto gets in the box, we’ve had a ton of history, we’ve faced each other so much, and I just know it comes down to execution and I was able to get ahead in the count and execute a good slider. And that’s where [catcher Kurt Suzuki] and I — that just shows you where Zuk and I are at. I was praying for him to thrown down a 1-2 slider, he called it, and I was on the mound like, ‘Hey, just execute this, execute this, stay through this, don’t get too far ahead of yourself,’ and was able to throw the pitch exactly the way I wanted to and get out a jam and keep that a 1-0 ballgame.”
Max Scherzer. Ridiculous 84mph Changeup. pic.twitter.com/XoOPF1gdXt— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 30, 2019
”He talks about it all the time, the last 15,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week.
“Those last 15 pitches, when he’s emptying the tank is probably, for me, one of the most enjoyable, compelling, competitive things to watch in all of sports.”
On Sunday afternoon in Detroit, Scherzer was trying to make a 2-0 lead over the Tigers hold up late in the series finale in Comerica Park.
Scherzer was at 100 pitches after seven, but there was no question whether or not he was going back out for the eighth.
“That was a very quick conversation,” Nationals’ skipper Davey 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.”
Scherzer had three right-handed hitters lined up against him, Gordon Beckham, pinch hitter Miguel Cabrera, and JaCoby Jones.
Was there some extra motivation pitching in the park that was his home from 2010-14 when he started for the Tigers? It was his first start there as part of an opposing team.
“No, there’s no extra motivation,” Scherzer said. “I mean this is the big leagues, you’ve got to be ready to face everybody, so 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 struck all three Tigers out. All swinging. On 15 pitches. Because of course, right?
“That’s what you put all of the work in for,” he added after the 2-1 win, which extended an unbeaten streak to eight straight starts, over which he’s put up a 0.95 ERA in 57 IP.
“Everything I train for, to make sure I’m at my best and throw the best pitches you can late in the game, and today we needed it, in a 2-1 ballgame in the eighth, those are, in my mind, the deciding pitches of whether it’s a tie game, or we’re winning. And any time I can hand the ball off to [closer Sean Doolittle], that’s always a great thing for the ballclub, because I’m out there doing my job, pitching deep into a game, and to hand it to Doo means we’re winning, so that’s a good thing.”
Scherzer saw his former teammate, Cabrera, in the on-deck circle when the inning began, so he knew the first out of the inning was even more important.
“I saw him step in the on-deck circle when I was warming up,” Scherzer explained, “... so I knew this was going to be on. So, you get excited in that moment, but you can’t get away from yourself, you’ve still got to execute pitches against Beckham, so for me it was trying to make sure that I could get that out, because I didn’t want to face Miggy with somebody on base, because I know how lethal he is, so I really was focused on trying to get that first out.”
Scherzer threw a 3-2 fastball by Beckham outside for out No. 1. And the at bat with Cabrera?
Scherzer vs. Miggy, Pre-Pitch.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 30, 2019
Spoiler alert: Max K'd him. pic.twitter.com/GXIFzrGK5i
“That’s full adrenaline right there,” the Nationals’ ace said after he got the Tigers’ slugger to chase an 0-2 slider out of the zone.
“When you see him get in the box, that’s who you want to face. You want to face the best and that’s when you just want to throw the best pitches you’ve got and go right after him.
“And it’s fun to face him. I definitely have the ultimate respect for what he can do at the plate, so it’s my best versus you.”
Scherzer got Jones to chase a 1-2 changeup out of the zone for out No. 3, and the starter’s 14th K from 28 batters faced. Doolittle earned the save in the ninth.
How does Scherzer explain what’s been working right in the last eight dominant outings?
“Just in rhythm, rhythm with my mechanics, and really have the shape of every offspeed pitch, all five of them really, to be able to execute them where I want to,” Scherzer said.
“And not trying to make mistakes with them, execute where I want to, and then when I can sequence, you just give Zuk the ability to just call anything and we can just game plan. We know what we want to throw, when we want to throw it, and the great thing, the word that might describe the rhythm is there are times when I’m on the mound and I’ll be kind of thinking, ‘Hey, man this would be a great time for this pitch,’ and then Zuk just calls it and I don’t even have to shake to it, so that’s kind of the rhythm that we’re in, both, and how we’re able to attack a lineup.”