Max Scherzer lamented after his 12th and final start of 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign that he felt like he was just hitting his stride as things came to an end for the Washington Nationals.
“It just stinks that the year is over,” he said a little while after his last outing. And his goal in the offseason, he said, was to find ways to come back and pitch more efficiently, “from the get-go, and not have to try to wait till my 12th start before I finally feel good.”
In 12 starts and 67 1⁄3 innings pitched in 2020, Scherzer put up a 3.74 ERA, 23 walks (3.07 BB/9), 92 Ks (12.30 K/9), and a .260/.319/.424 line against.
Through 12 starts this season, Scherzer had a 2.22 ERA, 15 walks (1.75 BB/9), 104 Ks (12.16 K/9), and .180/.233/.326 line against in 77 IP, and in three starts (one just 1⁄3 of an IP due to an injury) that followed before he took on the Los Angeles Dodgers in Nationals Park this past Friday night, the three-time Cy Young award winner put up a 1.59 ERA, five walks (3.97 BB/9), 15 Ks (11.91 K/9), and a .167/.271/.333 line against in 11 1⁄3 IP.
Max Scherzer, Filthy 86mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/dE1lnN1TIR— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 2, 2021
So, is this peak Scherzer we’re seeing now?
“He’s throwing the ball well,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said before start No. 16 of the 2021 campaign for Scherzer. “We talked a lot after last year, and how he just really felt like the last few games that he was starting to hone in and really get going, and the season ended. He also talked about maybe going to pitch somewhere else, like in winter ball, just to get some more innings in and we advised him not to do that, but he’s doing well, he’s pitching well, he feels good, the biggest thing is that his body feels good, which is good.”
One noticeable change, looking at Scherzer’s numbers year-to-year, is the effectiveness of his four-seamer in the first 15 starts, with the right-hander holding hitters to a .187 AVG on it, down from .264 last season, and getting more swinging strikes 35.2% Whiff%, (up from 26.3 in 2020).
“His fastball, location of his fastball, not missing,” Martinez said when asked what’s different with Scherzer’s four-seamer this year. “When he’s throwing his fastball, he’s throwing it with a purpose and really hitting his spots, which has been awesome, so hopefully he continues to do that today.”
Scherzer held the Dodgers to a run on four hits in six innings pitched, over which he threw 100 pitches total, with the only run that that the visiting team in D.C. scored coming on an 0-1 fastball up in the zone, over the middle of the plate Justin Turner hit out to center field in the top of the fourth.
Nice night for a jog around the park. pic.twitter.com/7DvlUQDFfu— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 3, 2021
Scherzer handed a 3-1 lead to the Nationals’ bullpen in the seventh, but the Nats’ relievers (Sam Clay, Austin Voth, and Kyle Lobstein) combined to give up nine runs as the Dodgers blew things open in what ended up a 10-5 win.
So, was the decision to lift Scherzer after just 100 pitches the wrong one in the end?
“When he came in [after the top of the 6th] and it wasn’t really a whole lot of conversation,” Martinez said.
“I know Max really well, we communicate really well, and he looked at me, he knew he had 100 pitches, and he was done. And I told him, I said, ‘Hey, great job, we’re going to pass it over to the bullpen.’ So, but once again, he did an amazing job.
Max Scherzer, Unfair 77mph Curveball.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 3, 2021
It's his 5th best pitch. pic.twitter.com/KhE8Kat9fc
“Unfortunately his pitch count got up there and he was done after that.”
“There’s a conversation to be had,” Scherzer said of the brief talk with Martinez after the top of the sixth, “... but knowing that I have to make another start here in five days, where I’m at physically, lineup, where matchups were, that’s where Davey just said that’s just enough. I pitched enough. You live with that decision and move on. I wish I could be out there every time, but based on the schedule, how I’ve been on — this is my third time through on five days, the fourth time is always a challenge, I just know that going through this that you’ve got to be a little guarded in your third time going into the fourth time, so for me it’s just get 100 pitches, get out of there, and that’s just the way it’s got to go.”
While Scherzer’s best interest was one (significant) consideration, it wasn’t the only one that factored into the decision to end his night after six innings and 100 pitches.
“Where we’re at in the order,” Scherzer said, “... we thought we could, at that point in time, turn it over to the bullpen. I’d gotten through the heart of the lineup, to now try to sit there and say is it worth me going up to 110-115 at this point in time, at that part of the lineup, with everything into consideration, that’s when Davey said no, and that’s when my day is done.”