VIERA, FLA. — At 5:05 p.m. on a warm Thursday evening here, Max Scherzer climbed onto a mound in a red, white and blue Nationals jersey for the first time. Two minutes later, he fired his first pitch, a strike to Mets center fielder Matt den Dekker in the Nationals’ first spring training game of the year.
For two innings, Scherzer’s stuff was on display. He fired a heavy dose of fastballs, hitting as high as 95 mph, along with off-speed pitches. For many Nationals officials, coaches and players, it was their first up-close look at the team’s prized new starter, his three-quarters delivery and electric pitches.
“It’s fun,” Scherzer said of his Nationals debut. “It was good to get out there for the first start of spring. You’ve been working hard for the past several months. It’s nice to get out there, get on the mound and pitch in the game.”
Over two innings, Scherzer fired 29 pitches, 20 for strikes. He allowed two hits, including a solo home run to Mets left fielder John Mayberry Jr. Scherzer’s mission in his first start was to get a grasp of his command. He struck out two, walked none and got a groundout. In his first start in five months, Scherzer was happy with his location and aggressiveness.
“For the most part, I was able to get the ball to the side of the plate that I wanted to,” he said. “For me, I’m happy with how it went out there and how I felt.”
Over the past two weeks, Scherzer has acclimated quickly to the Nationals clubhouse. He cracks jokes with teammates and even Manager Matt Williams, is already scheming to run fantasy sports pools, and sits with teammates to learn about them.
“It’s not been hard at all,” Scherzer said of blending in. “They have a great clubhouse. As long as you make fun of a few individuals for what they’ve done in the offseason it seems to work out pretty well for you.”
When specifically asked about a photo poking fun at Williams that he posted on the clubhouse bulletin board, Scherzer laughed. “Yeah, that,” he said, before adding a quip about Jayson Werth’s reckless driving conviction and five days in jail this winter. “The outfielders and what they do and how they drive. It’s good times.”
Although he may be fitting in the clubhouse already, Scherzer still has work to do to get to know catcher Wilson Ramos better. He has caught Scherzer in bullpens but Thursday was their first game together. Scherzer said he hopes to take Ramos out to a steak dinner to talk about their philosophies.
“It’s really going to take to the season until we have a full go at this before we actually start doing it,” Scherzer said. “We really won’t get on the same page for awhile. As a catcher, it’s tough. We’ve really gotta figure each other out. He’s gonna have good ideas for me and I’m going to have good ideas for him as well.”
Scherzer is also using spring to figure out a new pitch: a cutter. Many pitchers tinker with new pitches around now and Scherzer is no different. He threw the cutter on Thursday against the Mets but wouldn’t commit to using it during the season.
“The biggest thing, if I do add it, I still have to maintain a slider and a curveball,” he said. “If that pitch takes anything away from those two pitches, then I can’t throw it. It’s a matter of if I can add that and keep my other pitches where I want them.”
>>> Tanner Roark gave up three runs on four hits in one inning of relief for Scherzer. He gave up a few bloop hits beyond the reach of fielders and struggled to find his breaking ball. “He said he felt great afterward and that’s all we’re concerned about,” Williams said.
Heath Bell, a non-roster invitee battling for a spot in the bullpen, sandwiched two walks in between three strikeouts. Rafael Martin, Aaron Barrett and Eric Fornataro all fired scoreless innings.
Blake Treinen, who has been working out as a starter, tossed a spotless ninth, perhaps suggesting he will get work as a reliever this spring. Treinen said his bullpen sessions up until now have been the same workload as two or three innings, like most starters. Williams said Treinen is versatile — he can toss one inning, multiple innings or start — but the Nationals wanted to try him in a one-inning spot on Thursday because there’s a potential opening on the team for that role.
“It’s just fun to come in and shut the door,” Treinen said. “Whether it’s the guy in before you has a couple guys on and needs you to come in and help him. That’s always a blast to be relied on in situations like that. Also, closing the game is a thrill. Even for me, I haven’t really had an opportunity to do that. So even in spring training, it was fun. It’s the first time I’ve been able to do that.”
Treinen throws mid- to high-90s sinkers when he starts. As a reliever, he would be a deadly weapon because he could throw high-90s with a smaller workload. He has said he is willing to do whatever the team needs but has enjoyed his time as a reliever, too.
“I’m not sure when we’ll all throw again but we’ll see if I go two [innings] and work up to being a starter from there,” he said.
>>> Yunel Escobar was scratched about 45 minutes before the start of the game with back and body soreness. Kevin Frandsen started at second base instead. Escobar has been doing a lot of extra work at second base, his new position this season, and Williams believes it contributed to the soreness. Escobar also dealt with a fever and some mild asthma earlier this week so Williams opted to give him a break. Escobar could be off Friday, too.
“He’s been working extremely hard at getting accustomed to the position,” Williams said. “But we’ll see how he is [Friday].”
Tyler Moore, who started in left field, went 2 for 2 with an RBI. Kila Ka’aihue, a non-roster invitee, hit a monstrous two-run shot in the seventh inning toward the players parking lot beyond right field. Clint Robinson — another non-roster invitee who bats left-handed and can play first base and the outfield — went 2 for 3.