Mad Max. (Via MLB.tv)

Max Scherzer lived up to his nickname during Tuesday’s 14-strikeout performance against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and “Mad Max” only seemed to get madder as the game wore on.

“Wow, he’s growling,” MASN analyst F.P. Santangelo said after Scherzer struck out Austin Barnes on his 100th pitch of the Nationals’ 2-1 win and proceeded to stalk around the mound. “Oh, I love watching this guy pitch, don’t you?”


Max Scherzer, stalking. (Via MLB.tv)

“I swear, he fires me up,” Santangelo said, as Scherzer furled his upper lip and went to work against the next batter, Chase Utley. “I want to run down there and put a uni on when he pitches, I swear to God. I mean, I’ve got goose bumps right now. I love the way this guy competes, man, more than anything. You talk about strikeouts, velocity, sliders and change-ups. What you’re seeing right now is my favorite part.”

Before his first pitch to Utley, Scherzer had a little conversation with himself on the mound.

I would like to believe Scherzer was talking about emptying his “fun box,” but you can do your own lip-reading.

“Max Scherzer and his facial expressions, he is starting to smell it,” said Dodgers TV analyst Orel Hershiser, who was nicknamed Bulldog during his playing career and would know. “He knows the end is near and he is pushing. A lot different look than like we saw in the second and the third and the fourth.”

On his 105th and final pitch of the game, Scherzer got Utley to pop out to catcher Matt Wieters to end the seventh inning. Utley probably just didn’t want to look at Scherzer’s angry face for another pitch.


Max Scherzer before throwing his final pitch of Wednesday’s game. (via MLB.tv)

Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo was the Diamondbacks’ scouting when Arizona selected Scherzer with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 MLB draft.

“We were calling him Mad Max in the draft room,” Rizzo told Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal earlier this year. “He came at you. He looked angry. He looked mad.”

Nine years later, Rizzo jumped at the chance to add Scherzer to Washington’s rotation by signing him to a seven-year, $210 million deal. Through two-plus seasons, it’s paying off.

“You don’t often sign starting pitchers as leaders of the club,” Rizzo said during an interview with the Sports Junkies on Wednesday. “Usually leaders of a club are position players because they play every day, but we knew this guy was a different cat. We called him Mad Max for a reason, because he prepares like nobody else I’ve ever seen, he works in between starts harder than I’ve ever seen any other player do it. I think he not only leads by example, but you see him on the mound, he’s a fist-pumper, he gets fired up and he likes to strike people out. I thought that that personality would really reverberate throughout the clubhouse and maybe take [Stephen Strasburg] to a different level and those guys.”

Scherzer stalking and making scary facial expressions and talking to himself on the mound isn’t new, of course, but he seemed especially animated on Tuesday. He owed the Dodgers for the loss and no decision he took in two starts during last year’s National League Division Series.

We know what Santangelo thinks of the competitiveness that Scherzer wears on his face, but I wonder how it affects his place on a list of D.C.’s most popular active athletes, if at all. Every Scherzer start is already must-see TV for the possibility that he’ll throw a no-hitter, or a perfect game, or strike out 20 dudes. Scherzer was on pace for 27 strikeouts through 3 2/3 innings on Tuesday and probably belongs in the top five based on his performance over the last three seasons alone. Emotion, like he showed in Tuesday’s game, is an added bonus.

My current top five: 1. Bryce Harper, 2. Alex Ovechkin, 3. John Wall, 4. Kirk Cousins, 5. Max Scherzer.