Max after sharp spring debut: 'This is what's fun'

February 23rd, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- was determined to be on the mound for the Nationals’ Spring Training opener on Saturday night.

So was the rain, which cut the game short after only two innings.

The Nats faced the Astros in a rematch of the 2019 World Series, in which Washington won it all in seven games. That was the last time Scherzer had pitched, and he had been eager to get back out there again.

“We’re back to playing baseball,” Scherzer said, “and this is what’s fun.”

Scherzer threw 22 pitches, including two strikeouts, over two scoreless innings. The Nationals had outlined about a 30-pitch outing for him.

“Being able to throw all my pitches for strikes [felt good],” he said. “All the offspeed, I thought I was able to execute those. I was losing kind of my fastball arm side a little more than I would like to. For me, I think that’s a little mechanical, kind of getting in it, back in the swing of things. Then trying to take that adjustment into the next start.”

Manager Dave Martinez was impressed by the fact Scherzer was throwing in the mid-90s in his first spring appearance. Last season, Scherzer’s four-seamer averaged 94.9 mph.

“I liked his tempo,” Martinez said. “I liked his mechanics. The ball was coming out really good. He threw a really good curveball, really good changeups. We’ll build from there.”

Scherzer was the first pitcher to face the Astros since Major League Baseball’s investigation into sign-stealing during the 2017 season. There was anticipation leading up to the game, and it culminated in audible boos from fans. That wasn’t on Scherzer’s mind, though.

“We won the World Series, so it’s not like I have a vendetta to hold,” he said. “For me, over here, we’re just trying to move forward and get ready for our season.”

While it was the same opponent, the players Scherzer faced on Saturday weren’t those he faced in October. The Astros did not start their regulars, which Scherzer would have preferred.

“You want to face the best,” he said. “They’re a great lineup. I get it, it’s early in the spring, you’re not going to see them. But for me, I always enjoy facing the best.”

That desire doesn’t surprise Martinez -- not in February, not in the postseason.

“He wants to compete against the best -- that’s who he is. It’s just Max,” Martinez said of the veteran now in his 13th season. “He’s like that every day, five days a week. Everybody gets to see him pitch every fifth day. But the day after he pitches, he’s competing, getting ready and pushing himself to get better.”

Scherzer got through his outing, but the Nationals’ pitching plans were affected by the rain. Joe Ross was warming up in the bullpen as the game, which started at 6:05 p.m. ET, was expected to resume at 8 p.m. The skies opened up again, though, and that never happened. Martinez said Ross’ next appearance would be pushed back.

“The only bad thing is, we lost Joe because he got hot,” Martinez said. “He got another bullpen in.”

As a result of the cancellation, the Nationals will have more bullpen arms available for Sunday afternoon’s split-squad games against the Astros (home) and Marlins (away).