JUPITER, Fla. - Max Scherzer could look at today’s ragged outing against the Marlins, one in which he gave up six runs (five of them scoring via three home runs) in five innings, with a glass-half-empty mindset and insist he needs to be better next time. Or he could try the glass-half-full approach and find the positives in what for all practical purposes was an ugly afternoon on the mound.
He chose the latter.
“I actually liked that I got hit around,” the Nationals ace said. “That was good. So much of spring training so far, I’ve been pitching out of the windup. I haven’t been able to pitch out of the stretch. You need one of these outings when you kind of get beat around to know how you navigate a lineup and keep working through innings. You can learn from this, and that helps build you for the regular season.”
Surely Scherzer had to be upset about some aspect of his outing?
“The only thing I’m mad about is walking the pitcher,” he said. “That’s the only thing I’m mad about.”
Scherzer’s free pass to Trevor Richards leading off the bottom of the third certainly was a lowlight, though Derek Dietrich’s three-run homer to right a few minutes later probably resonated with the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium crowd more than four balls thrown to an opposing pitcher.
Garrett Cooper and Brian Anderson also took Scherzer deep in the first four innings, and Miguel Rojas missed by only a few feet when he led off the bottom of the first with a rocket off the center field fence. Yes, the wind was blowing out, but it’s not like Scherzer hasn’t fallen victim to the longball before in his career. He’s served up 80 home runs in the last three seasons, tied with John Lackey and Julio Teheran for most among all National League pitchers.
There are plenty of theories on the sudden spike in home run totals since 2015, but it is true that more and more batters are putting an emphasis on hitting the ball in the air. It’s up to pitchers to combat that trend, and the back-to-back Cy Young Award winner spends as much time as anyone working on it.
“You understand that’s the game plan,” he said. “There’s sequences you can throw that you try to work around that. You try to locate so that you prevent guys from just teeing off on you. So that’s stuff we’ve seen over the past two years now, of pitches that are getting hit for home runs. Pitches that might have been good pitches in 2014 aren’t good pitches any more. You have to make that type of adjustment.”
Scherzer had surrendered two previous home runs in 14 innings this spring before today, so it hasn’t been a major problem. And truth be told, his primary focus right now is building up his pitch count so he’s ready to give a full effort 10 days from now when he faces the Reds on opening day.
With that in mind, Scherzer walked off the mound following the fourth inning today, his pitch count at 75, and talked manager Davey Martinez and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist into letting him re-take the mound for one more.
“I knew I needed to get to 90 today,” he said. “I was telling them: ‘Get me to 90, no matter what.’ “
Scherzer rewarded them for their faith. He stepped to the mound in the bottom of the fifth and promptly struck out the side on 15 pitches, ending his day on a high note and with his pitch count exactly at 90. He said he’ll build up to 100 on Saturday in his final start of the spring.
As for today’s otherwise unsightly pitching line?
“He got his 90 pitches, that’s all I look at,” Martinez said. “He knows what he needs to do.”