Even among the highest-paid starting pitchers in the majors, Max Scherzer isn’t your typical ace. His three Cy Young awards, two no-hitters and $210 million deal all stand out among his peers, and Scherzer’s durability puts him in even rarer company. Scherzer has made at least 30 starts in nine consecutive seasons dating back to 2009. Jon Lester is the only other pitcher in the majors with an active streak that long (10 seasons).
Clayton Kershaw made history in 2014 when he became the first pitcher to sign a contract worth more than $200 million. In the four years since, Scherzer, David Price ($217 million) and Zack Greinke ($206.5 million) have followed Kershaw ($215 million) with their own mega-deals.
None of that group has been able to sustain the consistent balance of health and success demonstrated by Scherzer, who is scheduled to face the Yankees on Wednesday night at Nationals Park.
Entering Tuesday, Washington’s ace was 7-1, the only pitcher in the majors with seven wins, and led the big leagues with 13.96 strikeouts per nine innings. Among NL starters, Scherzer had the lowest opponents’ batting average (.167), the best WHIP (0.82) and the second-best ERA (1.69). Meanwhile, the other three $200 million arms had seven wins among them. Kershaw and Price are suffering biceps and wrist injuries, respectively.
“Man, it’s incredible,” Nats manager Dave Martinez said of Scherzer’s consistency. “To watch him prepare, it’s not just the day of the game. It’s every day in between. He’s unbelievable, he really is. He’s the best I’ve ever seen and he’s ready to go every single time he goes out there. He has an idea of what he wants to do and it’s fun to watch.”
After landing his blockbuster deal in 2015, Scherzer has continued an explosive strength-training program that keeps him in shape year-round and continues in-season. According to Sports Illustrated, he starts lifting weights Dec. 1 every year and continues all season, doing heavy squats and power lifts on days after starts. During the season, he is constantly assessing his body and altering his conditioning.
After a start against the Phillies last week, Scherzer said he has a self-assigned limit of 105 pitches but is comfortable pushing past that when he feels he still has gas left in the tank. In that 15-strikeout performance May 6, Scherzer trotted out for the seventh inning at 102 pitches. He lobbied for more time but was pulled after getting the first out.
“Given the context of the game, how I was pitching, how I felt strong, that’s where I knew I could take on extra pitches and push the pitch count,” Scherzer said. “So it’s manage your body, manage the season, manage the schedule, managing the game. … I try to manage myself and be as honest as I possibly can with Davey so that he can make the best decision.”
With only one stint on the disabled list — a precautionary measure for neck soreness last year — blemishing an otherwise healthy career, Scherzer has missed just one turn in the rotation since becoming a full-time starter in 2009. A clean bill of health has allowed him time to focus on improving his arsenal.
“He’s constantly thinking of some ways to improve and try to get better,” catcher Matt Wieters said, “and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon.”