JUPITER, Fla. — Max Scherzer wanted to see how he felt in the seventh inning Friday night, especially after a long break after the sixth, and the results were satisfying: his fastball hovered between 93 and 95 mph, his off-speed stuff spotted well, he finished with 96 pitches in his final start of the spring and can fully turn his attention to facing the New York Mets at Nationals Park on Opening Day on Thursday.
But, the truth is, Scherzer has been fixed on the Mets for a while now. Everything he’s done across the last month was geared toward facing them to begin the year.
“I’ve been thinking about it the whole spring,” Scherzer, the Washington Nationals’ ace, said after Friday’s start against the Marlins. “You’re designing everything to be ready Opening Day.”
Scherzer’s final preseason objective was to pepper the strike zone, feel his breaking pitches and attack the Marlins from the start of counts. That made him not worry about his final line and the two-run homer run he yielded to Neil Walker. He finished with 12 strikeouts, the most in a spring training game since 2015. His seven innings also included 10 hits, three earned runs and no walks, showing that his plan was to throw strikes and see how all his pitches played. He even made this nonchalant defensive play to prove it’s about time to head north:
Yet the most promising sign was that Scherzer’s velocity didn’t wane as his pitch count climbed into the 90s. Nationals Manager Dave Martinez thought the night was full of “a lot of Max things” — after a reporter offered the phrase — and added “he’s ready, he’s been ready.” Scherzer threw 26 2/3 innings across five spring starts and surrendered 12 runs on 24 hits. He was pleased with the overall results since he’s spent each one tinkering with the nuances of his approach.
“That’s what I was kind of measuring this outing on, how did I pitch in the sixth and seventh inning?” Scherzer said Friday. “And how I was executing pitches at that point in time. So everything looks good, ready for the season.”
The season starts with Scherzer squaring off with Mets starter Jacob deGrom, who beat him out for the National League Cy Young award last year. Scherzer finished 2018 with an 18-7 record, 2.53 ERA, a league-high 220 2/3 innings and a career-high 300 strikeouts. He turns 35 this July and fully expects himself to get even better, however improbable that may seem, and talked after his previous start about better changeup location (Walker’s home run came on a first-pitch changeup). Those are the small tweaks Scherzer chews on, though he is usually secretive about adjustments. He believes it’s one of many tactics that has helped him sustain success.
So has the work he pours into spring training, from his first bullpen session to his final pitch Friday night. Once he exited the game, Scherzer executed high-fives with his glove and right hand as the energy around him lifted. The Nationals get a lot of life from the talent inside his right arm. And he appeared more than ready to provide that once again.
“I was trying to put something on it," Scherzer said of his last inning. “That’s something that you have to do in the regular season."
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