Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer threw yet another gem on Tuesday night in a win against the Tampa Bay Rays, tossing eight innings of five-hit, two-run, 13-strikeout ball to improve to an MLB-best 10-1 on the 2018 season. Scherzer threw 81 of his 99 pitches for strikes, including an immaculate inning — the second of his career — in the sixth.
The winner of the past two National League Cy Young Awards is in line to capture his third straight and fourth overall. Not a single pitcher in the majors has been better than the Nats ace in the first third of 2018, but it wasn’t always like this for the man they call “Mad Max.”
Before Scherzer was the best pitcher on the planet, he was just a struggling Detroit Tigers right-hander scratching and clawing for a spot in the rotation. It was after May 14, 2010, when that effort hit rock bottom. Scherzer’s seventh start of the campaign was a disaster, as he went five innings, allowing six earned runs (including three long balls), walking two, and fanning only one batter.
The Boston Red Sox roughed up Scherzer that evening at Comerica Park, a 7-2 Tigers loss, in which Scherzer fell to 1-4 on the season with an ERA of 7.29. He was promptly thrown down to the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate and wouldn’t pitch again in the majors until the end of that month. With this coming on the heels of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the club that spent a first-round pick on Scherzer in 2006, trading him after his hardship in the desert, there were reasons for doubt that Missourian would ever figure it out.Max Scherzer's passion for baseball has inspired him to constantly improve himself.Click To Tweet
Scherzer knew he had to get better to stick in the major leagues. Did he ever.
That 7-2 loss was his 55th career game, and last night’s dominant win over Tampa was his 318th. From that low, low, low mark on May 14, 2010, to now, he has gone 141-57 with an ERA of 3.08, over 2,000 strikeouts, and an opponent’s batting average of .218 in 264 starts. How about that.
Those stats, over that span, scream a tenacious work ethic working as hard as possible to accomplish a dream evident in the passion Scherzer displays in even the most impassive situations. This, from last night, is the face of a savage.
Mad Max. pic.twitter.com/EYi5l95bFq
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 6, 2018
That borders on deranged. Scherzer’s killer instinct, this unhinged avidity to send an opposing batter right back to the dugout from which he came, is unlike anything we’ve seen before. He yearns for strikeouts the way Alexander Ovechkin covets the simplest of goals.
Every single start, he is locked in. He vocally pumps himself up on the hill, be it an innocent whisper or a vicious yell. He motions towards the plate in the stretch with a ferocious swagger and unleashes all five of his pitches — the fifth of which being a curveball he developed in Detroit as an effort to improve himself — with unparalleled elusiveness, sustained velocity, and tremendous late movement. He trots around after a strikeout the way a guy playing pickup basketball does when he sinks a few tough shots in a row.
His attitude and emotion are the same in a random July start and an October do-or-die appearance, and it seems Scherzer is aging like a fine wine, and somehow, some way, getting better with each passing season. It goes to show how passionate and committed the Nationals’ righty is to being the best pitcher he can be.
He is beginning to remind us all of Randy Johnson, whose longevity is still unmatched among MLB pitchers. Johnson won four straight NL Cy Young Awards from 1999 to 2002, seeming to by hook or by crook get better with age. Scherzer, a five-time MLB All-Star, has improved his single-season ERA, Fielding Independent Pitching, ERA+, WHIP, hits per nine innings, home runs per nine innings, strikeouts per nine innings, and strikeout-to-walk ratio to their current career-bests of 2018.
In conclusion, Scherzer is somehow getting better, and he has nothing and nobody to credit for but himself and his inimitable passion for infinite improvement.
Editor’s note: Seems like a good time to remind everyone that this happened one year ago today: