JUPITER, Fla. - Max Scherzer had been sitting in the dugout for a while in the top of the seventh, his Nationals teammates having sent seven men to the plate during a rally that included a mid-inning pitching change. It was a long wait, but Scherzer really wanted to pitch the bottom of the seventh and end his outing on a high note.
Which he most certainly did. Scherzer struck out the first two Marlins he faced in the seventh, raising his game total to 12, and raising his fastball velocity to a game-high 94 mph. And when he stalked off the mound at the end of the frame, having thrown 97 total pitches, he was fired up just like we’ve all come to expect from the three-time Cy Young Award winner.
“That’s kind of what I was measuring this outing on: How I pitch in the sixth and seventh inning, and how I was executing pitches at that point in time,” the right-hander said. “Everything looks good. I’m ready for the season.”
Oh, yeah. This was a spring training start. Scherzer won’t be pitching for real for another six days when he takes the mound at Nationals Park to face the Mets on opening day in front of a sellout crowd.
You’d never know it by the way Scherzer approached this start on a 73-degree Friday evening in front of 3,569 fans at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Not that anyone in a Nationals uniform was surprised to witness it.
“That’s who he is,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He wants to go out there, he wants to finish strong, put hitters away. It was a good way for him to end spring training.”
It actually was a bit of an odd start for Scherzer, at least by his pitching line. He struck out 12 - most in any spring training game since Tyson Ross (Joe’s brother) did it in a six-inning start for the Padres on March 28, 2015 - but he also allowed three runs on 10 hits, including a two-run homer by Neil Walker.
Scherzer, though, wasn’t so much worried about the numbers as much as he was worried about making sure he threw strikes. Which he did with aplomb: 73 of his 97 pitches.
“What I wasn’t going to get worried about was what my final line was going to look like,” he said. “Just wanted to be attacking the zone and feel what all my offspeed pitches were like in the zone. That’s the good thing.”
Having achieved what he wanted to this spring - he finished with a 4.39 ERA in six starts but struck out 34 with only three walks, and built himself up to nearly 100 pitches - Scherzer now turns his attention to the Mets.
Not that he hasn’t already had his attention on Robinson Canó and Co.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it the whole spring,” he admitted. “You’re designing everything to be ready opening day. And you’ve got to manage who you’re facing. ... Just know the schedule, know where you’re going to be at within your starts, how many innings you’re going and really try to dial in what you’re trying to do in between each start.”
It’s safe to say Scherzer was dialed in tonight.