VIERA, Fla -- While watching baseball from his home near Sacramento last season, new Nationals manager Dusty Baker took every opportunity he could to watch Max Scherzer pitch, knowing there might be an opportunity to witness history."I like watching guys that have a chance to throw a no-hitter almost every
VIERA, Fla -- While watching baseball from his home near Sacramento last season, new Nationals manager Dusty Baker took every opportunity he could to watch Max Scherzer pitch, knowing there might be an opportunity to witness history.
"I like watching guys that have a chance to throw a no-hitter almost every time out," Baker said.
Indeed, there were stretches last season where Scherzer seemed to flirt with perfection every time he toed the rubber. He started by carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Opening Day against the Mets. He put together the most dominant two-start stretch since at least 1914 -- if measured by game score -- with a one-hit, one-walk performance against the Brewers on June 14, followed by a no-hitter against the Pirates on June 20.
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In those two starts, Scherzer threw a combined 18 innings and allowed one hit, one walk and one hit-by-pitch with 26 strikeouts. He came within five outs of throwing his second no-hitter on Sept. 28 against the Reds before punctuating his first season in Washington with a no-hitter against the Mets in his last outing of the season.
When Scherzer takes the mound at Turner Field in Atlanta on Monday at 4:10 p.m. ET to make his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Nationals, he has a chance to match Johnny Vander Meer's record as the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter in consecutive starts.
"I'm not throwing a no-hitter Opening Day," Scherzer said with a laugh at the start of spring. He brought up the strict pitch counts pitchers usually are held to during the start of the season and added: "It's just not going to happen."
If it is possible to fly a bit under the radar after posting a 2.79 ERA with a Major League-leading 8.12 strikeout-to-walk ratio and becoming just the fifth pitcher in history to throw two no-hitters in a season, such was Scherzer's 2015. Normally, that kind of season would have been rewarded with the National League Cy Young Award, but Scherzer finished a distant fifth in the voting, overshadowed because of historically great seasons from Chicago's Jake Arrieta (the eventual winner), then-Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
Scherzer entered the spring ready to build on his ability to consistently pound the strike zone. He threw first-pitch strikes 71.3 percent of the time, the best in the Majors, helping lead to a career-best 34 walks.
He enters this season as the anchor of the Nationals' rotation, which has the opportunity to be one of the best in the league. And consider Scherzer's answer to a question about how he plans to outdo himself this season.
"I relish pitching underneath pressure," he said. "Put as much pressure on me as possible. I have no qualms handling that, because I expect that out of myself. I expect to pitch well and pitch efficiently."
Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.