Scherzer’s emphasis on hitting another phase to his unbeatable success

Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer gets the nod for game two tonight against the Atlanta Braves as he puts his 15-5 and 2.33 ERA on the line in a crucial divisional matchup.

He also puts his .292 batting average and .333 on-base percentage on the line as well.

Scherzer-Determined-Delivery-White-Sidebar.jpgHis .283 average as a pitcher is second only to Colorado’s German Marquez (.350) in the National League. His 14 overall base hits are second most in his career. He had 15 base hits in 2015 and that was 69 at-bats.

Nationals manager Davey Martinez says Scherzer is different from many pitchers in the league in that he practices hitting a ton between starts.

“Max works on it daily, his bunting, hitting,” Scherzer said. “Situational hitting. He does all that stuff. That’s just part of Max in his routine. Like I said before, other than his fifth day, start day, the next four days he’s constantly working on all aspects of the game. I know he talks a lot about base running, if you let him, he will steal bases constantly. You just got to appreciate Max for what he is. He is a competitor.”

A pitcher that can rake can be a difference maker in the National League. Similar to a catcher that can hit for average, or a second baseman with power, these are spots in the order that a team can differentiate itself from the competition. Sure, most teams have outfielders or a first baseman that can hit for power, for average, or for both. But how many have a starting pitcher that is hitting better than most position players?

“I played with guys that were pretty good hitters,” Martinez said when asked for an example of a pitcher who could hit like Scherzer. “But nothing what Max does. (Friday) he hit off the tee to work on his swing. So, that’s just who he is.”

Martinez said it is a point of emphasis with his coaching staff. He wants and needs guys like Tanner Roark, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez to have valuable at-bats and at the very least move runners along.

“Honestly, our pitching staff, they do work on it. I know Tanner, Strasburg, they (work on it), but not as much as Max. He really puts thought into all of his at-bats, who he’s facing and hitting the ball the other way and hitting the ball up the middle and hitting ground balls in certain situations, different things like that. He really thinks about those things and his bunting. A couple of times he didn’t get the bunt down and I know he went into the cage and bunted 150 baseballs. So, he gets it.”

But again, this is another separator of Scherzer with most other pitchers. He desperately wants to be good at hitting as much as he is a Cy Young-winning starter.

“Our pitchers do do that (work on hitting),” Martinez said. “He tends to do it a lot where other pitchers tend to do other things and work on other things. But he loves it. For him when he’s out on the mound he’s a pitcher. But when’s he’s at-bat, he’s a hitter. We joke around him. We think of him as a hitter first before he’s a pitcher because he likes it.”

The ability of Scherzer to prolong innings with his bat also helps him in his starts. The more runs the Nats score early in games allows Scherzer to go after hitters by being aggressive on the mound. That, in turn, allows him to last longer and go deeper into starts. If he goes seven innings, that takes the pressure off the bullpen. His advanced hitting ability can also be a key element in his success as a starting pitcher.

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