It didn’t take long for Max Scherzer to impress his new club.
“As advertised,” manager Matt Williams said after the ace’s strong Nationals regular-season debut in a 3-1 loss to the Mets on opening day.
Scherzer repeatedly got ahead in counts Monday, throwing a staggering 23 first-pitch strikes against the 31 Mets batters he faced. Not that the former AL Cy Young winner, who signed a seven-year, $210 million contract this offseason, needed a confidence boost, but that kind of outing on opening day can pay dividends early in a season.
“I found the zone and I only fell behind a couple of hitters,” Scherzer said. “That’s what’s encouraging, to see I’m attacking my zone and hitting my pitches.”
Scherzer said his goal is to throw as many first-pitch strikes as possible. Last year with Detroit, he ranked 26th leaguewide in that statistic by throwing 63.3 percent of his first pitches for strikes.
He’s joined a Nationals rotation that excels in this category. According to fangraphs.com, Jordan Zimmermann was second in first-pitch strikes at 70.9 percent last season. Stephen Strasburg (65.1 percent) was 15th and Tanner Roark and Doug Fister were tied for 16th at 65 percent. Gio Gonzalez (58 percent) is the only 2015 Nationals starter to place outside the top 30 in this category last year.
“First-pitch strikes are key,” Williams said. “Then [Scherzer] can go to work. [On Monday], there were a lot of first-pitch strikes. He used his breaking ball for strikes. He turned up the fastball when he needed to.”
Though he’s 0-1 to start the season, Scherzer didn’t perform like a losing pitcher Monday, going 7 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts, two walks and no earned runs.
To Scherzer’s credit, he placed some blame on himself for the loss, saying he wasn’t consistent enough. Instead of pointing out shortstop Ian Desmond’s two crucial errors, Scherzer said he could have done a better job at preventing the RBI hits that scored the Mets’ runners.
The Nationals will be in good shape if Scherzer continues to have games like his first of 2015. He’s scheduled to make his second start of the season Sunday against the Phillies.
“I was really impressed,” Desmond said. “He is what he is. He’s a Cy Young winner, he pounds the strike zone. He threw a lot of first-pitch strikes. That was impressive and I know that’s his goal.”
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