In a pre-Opening Day tweet on Thursday, the Washington Nationals noted that since 2015, Max Scherzer’s first year in D.C. after signing a 7-year/$210M free agent deal with the club, he is ranked first amongst qualified starting pitchers in fWAR (34.4), strikeouts (1,463), and in the total number of innings pitched (1,118). Scherzer also ranks second in K/9 (11.78), and third in ERA (2.80).
Scherzer, now 36, got the nod as the Nationals’ Opening Day starter for the sixth time in his seven seasons in the nation’s capital, though that start didn’t happen, due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 among his teammates.
But that allows us to take a minute to consider what the future holds for the soon-to-be 14-year veteran, as he heads into the final year of that seven-year deal with the Nationals.
Scherzer talked on Wednesday afternoon about how he’s grown both on and off the field in his time with the Nat, over which, the club noted, he’s made five All-Star appearances, won two Cy Youngs (for three total in his career), and one World Series ring (in 2019).
It’s been an impressive run for the right-hander, who turned 30 in July of his first season in Washington.
“I really have grown up here in D.C.,” Scherzer told reporters.
“On the field, I’ve continued to evolve as a pitcher and continued to add pitches, and just refined everything I’m able to do on the mound, and off the field, I’ve just become — my family has grown so much over the years here with my wife. Now we have two kids and a third on the way and just that work/life balance it’s a lot different now than it was in 2015.
“I have a different perspective on life and a lot more patience than I did in 2015. So, yeah, these years here in D.C. have been great, and I’ve grown up — I feel like several times throughout the game, coming up through Arizona to really growing up in Detroit to even further maturing here in D.C., baseball has been a heck of a ride for myself and my family.”
As much as things have changed in his personal life, Scherzer has also continued to evolve on the mound as well. How has he grown as a pitcher?
“Just how I’ve been able to sharpen up my curveball and really find a way to continue to make improvements on the cutter,” he explained.
“I had [the cutter] in 2015,” Scherzer said, “but I’ve been able to kind of understand how to pitch — understand the break of that pitch a little bit better and how to execute it a little bit better and where I need to locate it, who I can do it to and not to, and so I feel like just having those pitchers even be better has allowed me to continue to grow as a pitcher along with the slider, along with the changeup, to really have a — for my mind, a deeper arsenal to be able to attack guys with. So not only in a game going third time through the order, fourth time through the order, but across the season. You face — like we’re going to face the Mets, I’ve faced the Mets so many times, but I feel like I have so many different ways I can pitch at them that I can change the way I pitch from one game to the next because I have those additional pitches.”
Max Scherzer, 95mph Fastball, 83mph Slider and 83mph Changeup, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/7nr4uJdkyt— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 15, 2021
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, who signed Scherzer to that seven-year deal, talked in advance of the club’s Opening Day, which was eventually postponed, about the Nationals’ ace working through an ankle sprain this spring and still managing to ramp up in time for the start of the 2021 campaign.
“He’s prepared,” Rizzo said. “He looks ready. The sprained ankle might have been the best thing that’s ever happened to him in Spring Training. Slowed him down a little bit, he didn’t start off Spring Training throwing a hundred-pitch side, but the hunger is there, the energy is there, the make-up is there and his stuff looks fine. He’s a guy that reinvents himself each and every year. He’s a guy that we go where Max takes us and he’s going to set the tone for this season.
“He’s our No. 1 starter and he’s the guy that’s done it year in and year out, not only for us but for a lot of teams.”
Since he has done it year in and year out, and is still doing it fairly successfully heading into the seventh year of his contract with the Nationals, have there been any further talks about keeping him for another year or two or three? Has Rizzo talked to Scherzer about a potential extension?
“I have not,” Rizzo said. “We have not spoken about it.”
Having previously stated that sometimes talks with players like Scherzer take place at the ownership level, Rizzo said that hasn’t happened yet either.
“We’ve had no conversations with Max.”
Will it happen at some point before he reaches free agency at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign? Is he a player who’s willing to talk contract during the season? Some aren’t. Is Scherzer willing to keep talking?
“I mean, different guys — their comfort level is — different types of scenarios, some guys want to cut it off and concentrate once the season starts. We haven’t discussed it. We see each other every day and I’m sure the topic will come up some day in the near future, and he will not become a free agent without us at least discussing what each other wants.”