One never knows what Max Scherzer has in store every fifth day. He flirts with no-hitters regularly. He can strike out 20. And, as the world found out Monday, he can single down the right field line and steal a base while tossing a shutout on 102 pitches to reverse the Washington Nationals’ five-game losing streak.
After five consecutive elite seasons, Scherzer has reached the point in his career where a Hall of Fame induction is within reach. Another strong couple seasons and it’s likely. The longer he stays at this level, the rarer his accomplishments become and the headier his company gets. Monday’s start provided more examples.
Getting stronger as Monday night’s game went on, Scherzer was pumping 95-mph fastballs by hitters in the ninth inning. He struck out the final two he faced to finish with 10. More impressively, he walked none, giving him at least 10 strikeouts without a walk for the 17th time in his career. According to Baseball Reference, only Randy Johnson (36), Curt Schilling (27), Roger Clemens (21), Clayton Kershaw (21) and Pedro Martinez (18) have had more such outings. Johnson and Martinez are Hall of Famers. Schilling and Clemens aren’t — at least yet — for off-the-field reasons, but are worthy. The fifth, Kershaw, is en route, and Scherzer’s competition for the greatest pitcher of this era.
Scherzer was notified of those numbers Monday night. “Sweet,” he replied.
With his 10 strikeouts Monday, Scherzer passed Vida Blue for 63rd on the all-time list. A typical Max Scherzer season — he’s compiled at least 268 strikeouts in his three seasons in Washington — should push him to at least ahead of Dennis Eckersley, who is currently 43rd on the list. He’s seventh among active pitchers, behind CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels.
According to MLB.com, Scherzer joined Nolan Ryan (another Hall of Famer) as the only pitchers in the live ball era to throw a shutout, compile at least 10 strikeouts and steal a base in a game. The live ball era dates back to 1920. Scherzer prodded the Nationals’ previous two managers — Matt Williams and Dusty Baker — to give him the green light when he wasn’t being held at first base, but they didn’t. Dave Martinez did, so he took a huge secondary lead before bolting.
“There’s obviously situations where I feel like I’m fast enough,” Scherzer said. “If [Jayson Werth] can steal a base, so can I.”
Game score, a metric Bill James developed to measure a pitcher’s performance, doesn’t include offensive production, but Scherzer’s 93 is the highest in baseball this season anyway. It was the fourth-highest of his career and his best since 2015, when he posted the three highest game scores. He didn’t win the Cy Young that year. He won the next two. And if Monday is any indication, Scherzer, who boasts a 0.90 ERA through three starts, will be in the mix for a third straight this season.
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