“Any time in the season, any time the fans start cheering, that always starts the adrenaline,” Scherzer said. “It doesn’t matter the situation.”
Last year, Scherzer thoroughly dominated Tebow, striking him out twice on seven pitches on the same diamond. The first of the encounters lasted three pitches — all revved-up fastballs. After sitting 92 to 94 mph, Scherzer slung 96, 97, and 97 mph heaters past Tebow. He took the second pitch and swung at the other two. The second round lasted four pitches with the same result. The former NFL quarterback was overwhelmed.
In Friday’s 2-1 victory, Scherzer went with a different approach. He started Tebow with a curveball for a called strike, perhaps catching him off-guard with an off-speed offering. Or maybe Tebow decided patience was the way to go after last year’s experience. Tebow got a fastball over the plate next. He swung and missed. Whether Scherzer reared back for a little extra on the pitch, those in attendance didn’t know; the stadium radar gun, which was functioning in the first inning, mysteriously shut down before the showdown.
Tebow, wearing No. 83, then stepped out of the batter’s box to regroup. He took a practice hack and adjusted his helmet before stepping back in for the finisher. It was a slider. He didn’t swing. Strike three. The demolition was over in 38 seconds. After the game, Tebow told reporters that Scherzer, the two-time reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, is “nasty.” In case there was any doubt, he clarified that he meant the evaluation as a compliment.
For those counting, Scherzer has three strikeouts on 10 pitches in three encounters with Tebow. That, of course, isn’t a fair way to judge the 30-year-old Tebow’s nascent professional baseball career. The fact that he faced Scherzer on March 2, and not March 27, as he did last year, signifies he has progressed in his short time as a professional baseball player after 12 years away from the game — or that the Mets aren’t too proud to have someone in big league camp who may not be qualified because he can draw bigger crowds for Grapefruit League games. Both things could be true.
But Tebow wasn’t the only overmatched Met. Scherzer collected four other strikeouts in his three perfect innings. He threw 40 pitches, 26 for strikes. The Mets didn’t hit a ball out of the infield, though former Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton smashed a ball down the right field line that both he and Scherzer thought hit the foul pole for a home run. It was ruled a foul ball. Scherzer later struck Lobaton out looking at a curveball. It took Scherzer until his second start of his spring to display vintage dominance.
“Built off the last start,” Scherzer said. “Felt stronger all the way through the start today. I can feel myself getting into the swing of things. No walks; that’s always a plus. That’s a huge goal of mine every single spring training start. I’d rather give up home runs than walk guys in the spring. So at least I was pounding the zone. Fell behind a few hitters, but overall this was a good spring training start.”
As for Tebow, he immediately capitalized on Scherzer’s departure, smacking a first-pitch fastball from Erick Fedde to left-center field for a single in the fourth inning. He later reached base after lashing a groundball that first baseman Jose Marmolejos couldn’t handle. He looked like he belonged.
“It’s impressive what he’s trying to do,” Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “And I don’t fault him for wanting to try and play baseball. Some people get angry for some reason. I don’t know why they get angry. He didn’t sign himself to come play. It’s not his fault someone gave him a chance. Seems like a nice guy. It’s kind of silly to get upset over someone playing baseball. I’ve got no problem with him.”
Earlier in the spring, Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson generated some exasperation when he said he believes Tebow can reach the majors. Tebow probably will want to avoid Scherzer if he does. He wouldn’t be the first.
—Making his spring debut Friday, Zimmerman laced two line drives in his two plate appearances. The first went directly to the right fielder for an out. The second found grass in left field and went to the wall when the left fielder’s dive went awry, allowing Zimmerman to stretch the hit into a double with a headfirst slide.
“Two good at-bats, two good swings,” Zimmerman said. “I guess that’s as much as you can ask for.”
The 33-year-old Zimmerman was in the lineup as Washington’s designated hitter. He said he expects to play again Sunday but isn’t sure whether he will be at first base.
—Victor Robles hit his first home run of the spring in the seventh inning. The solo shot came off right-hander Marcos Molina. Robles, the Nationals’ top prospect, is 6 for 17 at the plate this spring.
—Bryce Harper is scheduled to start as the Nationals’ designated hitter against the Astros on Saturday. Harper hasn’t played since Tuesday because of an ingrown toenail. He underwent minor surgery to fix the issue Thursday.
“He’s starting to incorporate the little things that we talked about,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. “You can see he has a passion for the game. He’s having a lot of fun. He’s a joy to be around. The kid’s always smiling, and he loves to play.”
—Martinez said Matt Adams was initially scheduled to play Friday, but he decided to hold him out at least until Saturday. Adams hasn’t played since Sunday because of a blister on his right foot.
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