It took Max Scherzer five starts and 26 1⁄3 innings last summer to give up his first four of ten home runs allowed overall on the season (in MLB’s 60-game campaign), and three of those came in his fifth outing, but the 36-year-old, 14-year veteran gave up four in six innings in a shaky 2021 debut last week against Atlanta.
“Just getting back in the routine of things and just throwing the game I can throw,” Scherzer said of his initial outing this season, in which he gave up just the four runs while walking no one and striking out nine in a 91-pitch effort, before the Nationals walked off with a win on a Juan Soto hit in the ninth.
“You make mistakes they make you play,” he added, summing up his struggles in the start against the Nationals’ NL East rivals.
“I was executing pitches and then I get sloppy and leave one over the middle of the plate,” Scherzer explained. “I just wasn’t quite executing on full-tilt there early. You’ve got to live with that. So you turn the page, move on, we got out of here with a win, so just get into my next start.”
Start No. 2 for the three-time Cy Young award winner was matchup with Clayton Kershaw in the series finale in Los Angeles. It didn’t disappoint, with both starters battling in the sort of pitchers’ duel you’d expected from hurlers with a combined six Cy Youngs between them.
Max Scherzer, Unfair 90mph Dead Zone Cutter. ☠️✂️ pic.twitter.com/MaeYIPu0Sd— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 11, 2021
One run scored off Scherzer in the second, on a two-out fly to left-center that Victor Robles lost in the midday sun in LA, and that was all he gave up through six, as he battled and gave up just three hits, one walk, and that one run in a 90-pitch outing in what ended up another loss for the Nationals, who dropped their fifth straight.
Kershaw tossed six scoreless on 86 pitches, giving up five hits and recording six Ks in what ended up a 3-0 win.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks, 90 P, 54 S, 4/4 GO/FO.
Scherzer’s take on the start as a whole?
“A lot of good,” he said in his post game Zoom call with reporters.
“Was out there just competing, and finding a way to work with [catcher Jonathan Lucroy].
“Just executing pitches. You know you’re going to be in a close ballgame when you’re going up against [Kershaw].
“He pitched great today, and unfortunately we weren’t able to score any runs, but that’s what you kind of expect when you get into battles with the Dodgers and with him on the mound. You’ve got to be at your A-game, and unfortunately just one pitch where the ball was able to get down for a double and a run was scored.
“A lot of times that doesn’t necessarily beat you, but today it did.”
Max Scherzer, Beautiful 87mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/Q6kRO6R571— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 11, 2021
“He threw the ball really well,” manager Davey Martinez said of Scherzer’s work in the start.
“He hit his spots. His cutter was really good. You saw two veteran pitchers, for me, at their best, they both threw the ball really well. Hit their spots. But Max was really good. I like that. No walks, just went after hitters, got outs early. He threw six innings, 90 pitches, I thought he had a great outing.”
Scherzer said there were positives to pull from the outing, in spite of the result for the team.
“Just how I was kind of executing all the pitches,” he said.
“Threw some good cutters, some good changeups, some good sliders to right-handers.
“Was pitching well today. Was in a pretty good rhythm, and felt a lot more comfortable with Lucroy back there today too.”
The 36-year-old starter doesn’t really need any additional motivation when he takes the hill, but he acknowledged that going head-to-head with a pitcher like Kershaw definitely gets a competitor like him going, though their personal matchup was just a part of the motivation.
“Yeah, he’s one of the best competitors in the game, and you love competing against him,” Scherzer said, “... and you’re facing the reigning champs and you want to go out there and beat them.
“That’s the beauty of baseball, and playing at this level, you constantly get to face the best players in the game, and more importantly in the world.
“When you get to have a chance to go out there, you want to obviously go out there and pitch your best. These are the games you remember, these are the matchups you remember, and really how you judge yourself, how you perform in these situations.”
Scherzer performed well, and, more importantly, was able to build on his 2021 debut, so what’s the goal heading into start No. 3?
“Keep it going, continue to pick up the executions, pick up the sequences, just continue to evolve throughout the season, continue to get better,” Scherzer said.
“That’s the goal in all this, continue to pitch deep into games. Been able to control my pitch count pretty well, it hasn’t gotten out of hand yet, knock on wood ...
“Obviously be a little cautious here in April, understand the length of the season here, and then obviously when you start getting out there, you can start pitching deeper into games.”