Patrick Reddington: Getting a push from Scherzer

New Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer said this spring that his conversations with his former teammate in Detroit, Rick Porcello, went a long way in helping in his own and Porcello’s development as major league starters.

In an interview with Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo in the leadup to his opening day start with the Nationals, Scherzer discussed the relationship, explaining that he and Porcello would study opponents from the bench when they weren’t pitching, with Cafardo comparing the work they did to the conversations former Atlanta Braves teammates Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz would have in the dugout, “dissecting every hitter, every at-bat, and figuring out what they could do to offset the hitter.”

The two pitchers shared their thoughts on how to attack opponents and “bounced ideas off each other,” Scherzer said.

“Little things like, ‘Hey, in this situation you need to throw another changeup, or double up your curveball.’ Situational stuff like that. Very minute stuff that can make a difference between another out and a hit. That can be the difference in another run or another loss.”

It was a mutually beneficial relationship that resulted in both pitchers improving during their time with the Tigers.

Both moved on, however.

Porcello was traded to the Boston Red Sox, who signed the right-hander to a four-year, $82.5 million extension.

Scherzer, of course, agreed to a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals this winter, joining an already impressive collection of arms in the nation’s capital.

Though he said he was able to pick up some little things from his new rotation mates this spring, the 30-year-old right-hander told reporters before his opening day start for the Nationals that they would have to get going in the regular season before he and his fellow starters could really begin to learn from one another and break their opponents down.

“You have to get into the regular season when you start knowing what the other team is doing,” Scherzer said, “what their strengths are, and typically, how I go about attacking hitters is different than say the rest of the pitchers on this staff attack a hitter and that’s where you try to learn from them. What do they see? What makes them successful and try to emulate sometimes what’s one of their strengths. So that’s where you’ve really got to sit here and watch everybody throw for several weeks before you can really learn anything from them.”

In addition to learning from one another, the starters in a rotation can push each other, as Nats manager Matt Williams explained after Scherzer played the role of stopper last week in Philadelphia, holding Phillies hitters to a run on six hits in six innings of work a night after former Tigers teammate and current Nationals rotation mate Doug Fister tossed 6 1/3 scoreless on the road in a loss at Citizens Bank Park.

“They’re good pitchers,” Williams said. “Of course, if the rest of the crew is pitching well, they want to pitch one, too. They’re in and of themselves when they take the mound, but it’s important to have those guys. We’re happy with the guys we run out there every five days.”

Not all of the pitchers the Nationals are running out there every five days are going to be a part of the rotation over the course of Scherzer’s seven-year deal. Jordan Zimmermann and Fister are free agents after this season and Stephen Strasburg could become a free agent after the 2016 campaign if he’s not signed to extension before then.

Scherzer and the current Nats starters can no doubt feed and learn off of each other while they’re together in the rotation, but the one-time Cy Young Award-winning starter might be an even more important role model for the next generation of Nationals starters, like A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito and others, when and if they make their way up.

While some of the Nationals starters may depart over the next couple seasons, Scherzer is locked in for six more years after this, and his approach to pushing his teammates and sharing and learning with his fellow starters could become even more important in the future.

Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. Follow him on Twitter: @federalbaseball. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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