Scherzer strikes out 14 in return to Detroit

Nats ace strikes out side in eighth to cap dominant outing

June 30th, 2019

DETROIT -- It was during his tenure with the Tigers that developed and popularized the idea that the final 15 pitches of his start were also the most important. That’s how Scherzer can easily judge himself after an outing, looking at those final pitches when the game usually hangs in the balance.

“Whether it’s the seventh inning or the eighth inning, when you are at the 100-pitch mark, you have to be able to still pitch your best,” Scherzer reiterated from the visiting dugout Friday. “That’s when the game is won or lost. That’s when you need your best pitches.”

Those words, spoken two days before his first outing at Comerica Park in five years, were almost prophetic. Already at 100 pitches after seven innings of one-run ball, Scherzer went back to the mound with a one-run lead in the eighth inning Sunday afternoon and proceeded to strike out the side, using 15 pitches to cap a 14-strikeout performance and seal a 2-1 Nationals victory over the Tigers.

Even with Scherzer over the 100-pitch mark, the conversation between Scherzer and manager Dave Martinez was brief. Scherzer said he felt good, and Martinez was happy to let him have another inning, but he let Scherzer know his limit was about 115 pitches. Scherzer fanned Gordon Beckham on six pitches and sat down his former teammate Miguel Cabrera on four before punching out JaCoby Jones with five pitches to cap yet another dominant outing against his former team.

“That's what you put all the work in for,” Scherzer said after the game. “Everything I train for, to make sure that I'm at my best and throw the best pitches I can late in the game. Today, we needed it. 2-1 ballgame in the eighth, those are the deciding pitches.”

This was Scherzer’s first start back in Detroit since he signed a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals before the 2015 season. He was not quite sure what his emotions would be like, stepping back on the mound where he blossomed into an ace, winning his first Cy Young Award in 2013 and becoming one of the leaders of a team that won four straight American League Central crowns.

Scherzer was good then, but he has been even better since, adding a pair of National League Cy Young Awards to a few historic performances, including a pair of no-hitters and a 20-strikeout game against these Tigers the last time he faced them in 2016. His outing in Sunday’s series finale was not as historic, but still thoroughly dominant.

It’s the fourth start in a row that Scherzer has recorded double-digit strikeouts, the eighth time in 18 starts this year and the 90th time in his career, the most among active pitchers.

“There's times where you get locked in, and you know how to execute,” he said. “It's just being consistent with all your pitches. I just know how to execute the fastball and play off that. It's game-planning right and understanding what the strengths of the hitter are.”

Scherzer, however, insisted he did not carry any extra motivation for this start against his former team. He remembered his time in Detroit fondly, aside from the nagging regret that those talented teams never won a World Series. So, his outing Sunday was nothing personal, just perhaps the best pitcher in baseball continuing one of the best runs of his career.

In six starts during June, Scherzer went 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 68 strikeouts, tossing at least seven innings with at least nine strikeouts while allowing two runs or fewer each time.

“He’s been really good this month, but I’ll say this again, he’s been good all year,” Martinez said. “He’s been unbelievable, he really has. The work that he puts in daily, as you can see pays off for him every fifth day.”