Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty shared a funny anecdote about Max Scherzer and Alex Avila’s time together in Detroit when the catcher signed on with Washington last week, joining the three-time Cy Young winner and the Nationals, after working with him 107 times when both were on the Tigers’ roster between 2010-14.
Avila talked last summer about a mound visit he made to talk to Scherzer back in the day:
“It was a regular June day at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City in 2013. Scherzer was months from his first Cy Young Award but couldn’t quite find his command against the Royals. Avila pondered how to get him on track. So he walked to the mound and offered a fantasy football trade. An intentionally bad one. Scherzer, confused for a moment, got fired up that Avila thought he would accept such a one-sided deal. He yelled a little. Then he threw seven innings to improve to 9-0.
‘He feeds off that type of adrenaline,’ said Avila, whose 107 games with Scherzer are the most of any catcher. ‘At first, it took him off guard, but he was absolutely into it.’”
ESPN’s Buster Olney reported on Twitter, after Avila signed what is reportedly a 1-year/$1M free agent deal with the Nats, that the club, “... got strong feedback from [Scherzer], Avila’s former teammate in Detroit, as the talks progressed.”
Scherzer was also, according to Avila, the first one to reach out to him once his deal in D.C. was official.
“It will be a lot of fun catching Max again,” the 34-year-old, 12-year veteran said in a Zoom call with reporters earlier this month.
“He was always one of my favorite guys to catch. He was always so well-prepared going into games, and I got to watch him develop really into what he is now, and so it will be a thrill for me to be able to catch him again. I’m excited to be able to work with him again. He was the first guy that actually texted me once the news broke a few days ago, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
During their time together, Avila helped guide Scherzer to a 3.27 ERA and .233/.293/.373 line against in 661 IP, and the first of his three Cy Young awards.
A lot has changed since the last time the two of them teamed up, however, which Avila did acknowledge. He’s followed the starter’s career, but potentially getting to work together again was big when he was looking for a new home.
“That’s part of the excitement for me, is seeing where he’s gotten better at and what he’s learned in the years that we haven’t played together. It was a different stage of his career,” Avila explained.
“He was still figuring himself out. I got to see that over the course of five years or so we were teammates and it kind of culminated into a really good year for him in 2013, but then he’s taken it to a whole another level, obviously, after signing with the Nationals. So it will be interesting and part of the excitement for me to see what he’s learned over the last few years and what he’s been able to do, and to be honest with you I’m just going to try to help continue that for him.”
Getting up to date on Scherzer’s development, and learning how the other pitchers in the nation’s capital work will be a big part of his job early this Spring and once 2021 starts up.
Scherzer, in the past has said, it could take as much as half of a season to get to know new catchers, “... because the first half it takes a while to really know what’s going on, to get on the same page, but the second half that’s when you really figure out where we’re at.”
When the process starts again, Avila will work to get into each pitcher’s head, as he did when the catcher first worked with Scherzer in Detroit in 2010.
“Yeah, it started early on,” Avila said. “He was — my job, obviously, in Detroit catching the staff that we had was figuring out each guy’s personality and what made him tick.
“We had very different personalities throughout that staff, and Max obviously is extremely intense, very analytical in his approach and his game planning, and I think he was probably one of the first guys to actually start looking at some of the data that we had available in Detroit before some of the analytics started coming into play and we incorporated that into the game plan in Detroit at that time.
“I’m sure it’s very different now, the way he prepares, and then when he was on the mound during the game, it wasn’t long for me to figure out that he likes to be fired up, he likes to be challenged, and that kind of takes him to the next level competitively, and that is something that I’ve always enjoyed when I’ve watched him pitch.
“And you see that coming out of him, because he definitely wears his emotions on his sleeve.”
He’ll have to get up to date on Scherzer, while digging in and getting to know all the other Nationals’ starters like Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Joe Ross, Austin Voth, Erick Fedde and more.
“That will be part of the challenge going into Spring Training. I only know three of the guys on the staff, as far as Lester, Pat, and Max, so everyone will be a learning experience for me and that starts with video, that starts with conversations with them, conversations with Jim [Hickey, the new pitching coach] and [manager] Davey [Martinez], and Yan [Gomes]. Yan I’ll probably rely on the most as far as trying to figure out what makes these pitchers tick, and I think me and him are going to have a really great working relationship.”