KISSIMMEE, Fla. — When Max Scherzer was a Detroit Tiger, he spent most of his spring training starts pitching against the Braves, Mets, Marlins and Nationals — and that worked out well. Tucked safely in the American League Central Division during the regular season, Scherzer rarely had to face those teams when it mattered. He could show them everything and not hold pitches back, honing his regular-season approach without regular-season consequences.
As a Washington National, Scherzer will spend most of his spring training starts pitching against the Braves, Mets and Marlins — and that is less convenient, as he will have to face those teams again and again (…and again) during the regular season and the six regular seasons that follow.
Sunday, Scherzer started against the Astros, recently of the American League West. He faced hitters he will not see in the regular season, and so he pitched them with full regular-season vigor, setting up hitters within at-bats and throwing all his pitches. Strong results followed: in his longest outing yet, Scherzer threw 60 pitches in four scoreless innings. He struck out three, walked one, and gave up a hit in an eventual 3-2 loss.
“For me, I went out there with the mentality of, I will give them everything I would during the regular season,” Scherzer said. “Plus I kind of know these guys from pitching in the American League, so I was really focused on the results today to try to ramp up a little bit and really start preparing for the season even more.”
He was happy with his curveball, which he said he tweaked slightly from previous outings to great effect. He was happy with his off-speed stuff, which he threw for strikes in all counts and situations. Pitchers tinker in the spring, throwing breaking balls in non-traditional counts, throwing more fastballs than they normally would, but when Scherzer threw 1-0 change-ups or 3-2 sliders, that was no experiment. That was Scherzer.
“Vintage Max today,” Nationals Manager Matt Williams said. “He threw really good.”
Scherzer also got to work with his new catcher Wilson Ramos, who he threw to briefly in the spring training opener. Scherzer is known for his complicated signs and meticulous approach to breaking down hitters. Mutual understanding between him and Ramos will be key to his comfort, and Scherzer said the two worked toward that Sunday afternoon.
“It just takes time. That’s where in between innings we’re just going over, ‘Hey, in this situtation, got a swing and miss on this pitch, what do we want to do next pitch,’ ” Scherzer said. “Want to hear what he sees, and what I think is my strength in that situation. So that’s a conversation we just have to keep having over and over and over. We used our signs that we’ll have during the year. So again, we’re just working on things that will happen during the course of the regular season.”
His effort came in the midst of a slow offensive day for a lineup lacking most Washington regulars. The lone offensive outburst came when Dan Uggla rocketed a hanging breaking ball deep over the left field fence at Osceola County Stadium for a solo home run, his first homer of the spring. Tyler Moore continued to hit, turning in another two-hit day that included another opposite-field double. He is hitting .476 for the spring.
“With Tyler especially, he’s got the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He just continues to see the ball well, take good swings — good, quality swings. He’s playing good,” said Williams, who said the Nationals know this is what Moore can do when given consistent at-bats. The question is, and always has been, where to find him those at-bats.
>> Jayson Werth threw today after taking 50 successful swings Saturday, Williams said. Williams said the Nationals’ projected starting left fielder was sore after swinging, as any player would be after taking a long break from hitting and jumping back in at a relatively high volume of repetitions.
>> His 10 days of rest over, Yunel Escobar worked out lightly Sunday, Williams said. He threw and did rotational exercises to test the mildly strained left oblique that caused him to sit in the middle of last week. He did not swing and is still days away from full baseball activity.
>> Nate McLouth, who was sore after participating in team defense two days ago, rested again Sunday, but is expected to resume his throwing program Monday, Williams said.
>> The Nationals optioned right-handed pitcher Taylor Hill to Class AAA Syracuse and re-assigned right-handed pitchers Eric Fornataro and Scott McGregor to minor league camp.