Unbeaten in eight starts going into Saturday’s game, with a (6-0) record, a 0.95 ERA, eight walks, 84 Ks, and a .174/.216/.271 line against in 59 innings on the mound over that stretch, Max Scherzer took on the Kansas City Royals for the first time since 2014 in the second of three this weekend in Washington, D.C.
Scherzer, 34, was coming off a stellar, eight-inning outing against the Detroit Tigers on the road last week in Comerica Park, where gave up four hits and one run while striking out 14 of 28 batters in a 115-pitch effort.
Asked about the run he’s been on, the three-time Cy Young award winner said it’s all about consistency.
“There’s times where you get locked in and you just know how to execute,” he explained in Detroit.
“It’s just being consistent, being consistent with all your pitches. And so where I just know how to execute the fastball and just play off of that.
“So it’s just a matter of just game planning right and understanding what the strengths of the hitters are.”
His routine was altered some between starts, however, with a trip to the Paternity List and a new addition to the Scherzer clan, but before Saturday’s matchup with the Kansas City Royals, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said that the three-time Cy Young award winner did what he could to prepare for the outing.
These '69 Expos threads summed up in one word:— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 6, 2019
“He’s well-prepared for today,” Martinez told reporters.
“I know he got his work in even though they had the baby. He got his workouts in, and did his thing and last night he said he was ready to go and I know he’s excited to pitch.”
Wearing a powder blue Montreal jersey and a bleu, blanc, et rouge, tri-colour pinwheel cap on Expos day in the nation’s capital, Scherzer tossed four scoreless to start, on 66 pitches, picking up seven Ks from the first 16 batters he faced as the Nationals jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
In the bottom of the fourth, Scherzer singled with one down, then stole second base on the Royals’ starter, Glenn Sparkman, without a throw, standing up. Because why not. He did get caught off second on a grounder to third and tagged out in a rundown in the next at bat, so he wasn’t perfect on the basepaths. On the mound?
Scherzer picked up his eighth K in a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth, worked around a one-out single by Alex Gordon in a 14-pitch sixth inning, which left him at 91 total, and came back out for the seventh and struck out the side in a 12-pitch frame, reaching double digits in Ks for the fifth straight start and the ninth time in 19 outings in 2019. That was it for the Nats’ ace.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 Ks, 103 P, 75 S, 5/2 GO/FO.
“This has been — I played in Atlanta and those guys they had over there were pretty good,” Martinez said after the 6-0 win, when he was asked about the run Scherzer’s been on. “But what I’ve seen out of Max is incredible, it really is.
“He just keeps getting better and better as we go along, so it will be nice for him to get a little time off and get him back for the second half.”
What’s it like watching Scherzer work from behind him on the field during this stretch?
Max Scherzer struck out 10 on 6/14— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 6, 2019
Max Scherzer struck out 10 on 6/19
Max Scherzer struck out 10 on 6/25
Max Scherzer struck out 14 on 6/30
Max Scherzer has struck out 11 today.#Scherzday // #OnePursuit pic.twitter.com/Dnz2jL2yPa
“I feel like for the last month I’ve been asked I’ve been asked that same question,” Trea Turner told reporters, “or a different version of it for a while now, and kind of the same answer is just we appreciate what he does because we know how hard it is, and I think some people forget how hard it is to go out there and be that good every single day.
“Or every single time he pitches, and he’s been on a good stretch and we’ve needed him.”
Scherzer threw 66 pitches in the first four innings against the Royals, but he needed just 37 over the final three as he settled in and kept adding Ks, striking out the last three batters he faced to finish strong yet again, retiring 12 of the final 14 batters he faced.
Scherzer generated 25 swinging strikes and got 20 called strikes overall, with the Royals’ hitters fouling off 17 pitches total, a lot of them early as the ran up his pitch count.
“He wanted to establish fastball early and they fouled off a lot of pitches,” Martinez said, “and then be started getting in that groove and then he started mixing his pitches up, keeping the ball down. His slider was really good today, changeup was good, cutter was good, so when he starts pounding that strike zone with all of his pitches, as we all know he’s very effective.”
Max Scherzer had a hit, a stolen base and 11 strikeouts against the Royals today. It’s his 2nd career game with at least 1 hit, 1 stolen base and 10 strikeouts.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 7, 2019
According to @EliasSports , Scherzer is the only pitcher in the Modern era (since 1900) with multiple such games. pic.twitter.com/cX9ZNKHZJu
How does Scherzer explain his effectiveness in this stretch, which has now seen him go (7-0) in his last nine with a 0.84 ERA, nine walks (1.27 BB/9), and 94 strikeouts (13.22 K/9) over 64 innings? He said some mechanical adjustments he made turned everything around, and it started when he fixed his posture on the mound.
“Really when I fixed my posture, my top half — if you watch my head, my head was drifting a little bit too far forward towards the third base side as I was coming down through the mound,” Scherzer told MASN’s Dan Kolko and Bo Porter after the start, “and it was causing me just to be a little bit too much east-west when I was trying to locate a fastball, so once I was able to kind of fix my posture and really stand tall over the rubber and as I was continuing to go down the mound, allowed me to really stay north-south with my fastball, and then from there, was able to kind of sharpen every offspeed pitch the way I kind of wanted to.
“And once I’m able to do that,” he continued, “then I can start executing, start sequencing and it makes [catcher Kurt Suzuki’s] job just that much easier because he knows what I’m going to throw, and he knows where it’s going to end up and that’s just where we have fun.
“We’re just in rhythm and we’re going out there just executing a game plan and just trying to go out there and throw up zeroes.”
Scherzer threw up seven zeroes on Saturday. And he stole that base. Was his manager at all surprised to see Scherzer take off from first for just the second time in his career?
“No,” Martinez said. “The minute [Royals’ first baseman Lucas] Duda went behind him I said, ‘Here we go.’
“I was surprised about the second base thing, where he just, yeah, he’s in scoring position already, so, but he understands the game, it’s just who he is.”