WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Maybe it was the fact they were playing under the lights for the first time this spring. Maybe it was the fact he was stretched out to five innings for the first time. Or maybe it was simply the fact he’s Max Scherzer.
Whatever the case, the Nationals ace seemed to be even more amped up than usual for tonight’s start against the Mets, one in which he posted five zeros, allowed one hit, struck out nine and strutted around the mound more than once.
Scherzer may not be totally unique in this way, but the intensity he displays even when pitching in front of a crowd of 4,942 on a Tuesday night in March isn’t lost on his teammates.
“You see it in a lot of pitchers; I don’t know to the point that you’ll see it in Max,” catcher Matt Wieters said following tonight’s 7-4 victory. “I think he takes it to another level. I bet he’s dreaming of stuff in the offseason, three months before he gets here, of things he’s going to do. He might get a little too excited in the offseason, wear himself out a little bit thinking about what he can do when he gets to spring training.”
Some players despise spring training and use these long days in Florida and Arizona simply to get their work in and make sure they’re healthy for the regular season. Scherzer relishes every opportunity he gets to hone his craft, and so he tried to make the most of tonight’s outing against a Mets lineup he’ll see plenty of times this season.
“You might not feature everything (when facing a division opponents in the spring), but this stage in the game with three starts left, I wanted to go out there tonight and really attack the zone with all the pitches,” he said. “I felt like I was able to do that tonight.”
Scherzer, who has two more scheduled outings before he starts opening day March 29 in Cincinnati, racked up 76 pitches and became the first member of the Nationals staff to reach the fifth inning this spring.
He retired the first 10 Mets batters he faced before finally surrendering a double to Amed Rosario in the top of the fourth. He struck out four straight hitters at one point, then three in a row later on.
“He comes out and competes every day,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He was very efficient. We gave him 75 pitches; he (got to) 76. He’s good.”
Scherzer also became the first Nationals pitcher to bat this spring, a decision made by him, not the coaching staff.
“I just need to get in the box,” he said. “It’s the first live ball since last year. It feels unbelievably ... I mean, 95 is 95. But that just felt like ... I hadn’t seen a ball coming out of a pitcher’s hand like that. I was actually hoping I was going to bunt, but you’ve got to see pitches. Even us marginal hitters at best need to see pitches.”
Scherzer’s dominating outing was the story of the game. The club’s latest round of cuts was the story after the game.
Six players were trimmed from the big league roster, with outfielder Rafael Bautista, first baseman José Marmolejos and right-hander Wander Suero all optioned to Triple-A Syracuse, while left-hander Bryan Harper, right-hander Jaron Long and catcher Jhonatan Solano all were reassigned to minor league camp.
Of that group, only Suero had an outside shot at making the opening day roster. The 26-year-old reliever impressed this spring, tossing four scoreless innings with only three batters reaching base while striking out seven. But he hasn’t pitched since Thursday due to tightness in his left side; the injury isn’t believed to be serious, but the club can now take its time easing him back into action without him trying to make the roster.
“I know it was a freak thing, but he’s just got to be healthy,” Martinez said. “He had a great camp until that, and I loved what I saw. He gets lefties and righties out, and that’s pretty good.”
Harper, meanwhile, also impressed in his first big league camp, one that came after he missed the entire 2017 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The 28-year-old reliever (and older brother of Bryce Harper) figures to be among those considered for a promotion later this season if the Nationals need left-handed help.
“The biggest thing is his health,” Martinez said. “If he can continue to do that and build, I can’t see why not (we wouldn’t consider him for a call-up). He has a good fastball, good two-seam fastball. Has a really good slider. He could be a guy we could use later on.”