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Max's fitness at end of 2020? 'Like it’s May'

Victory over Mets gives right-hander 11 consecutive winning seasons
@jessicacamerato
September 26, 2020

WASHINGTON -- If it were up to Max Scherzer, there would be many more games to pitch this season. Following his 12th and final start of 2020 on Saturday, the Nationals’ 36-year-old ace feels he still has more to deliver. “I’ve said my body feels like it’s September, but my

WASHINGTON -- If it were up to Max Scherzer, there would be many more games to pitch this season. Following his 12th and final start of 2020 on Saturday, the Nationals’ 36-year-old ace feels he still has more to deliver.

“I’ve said my body feels like it’s September, but my arm feels like it’s May,” Scherzer said after earning the win in the Nats' 4-3 victory over the Mets in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Nationals Park.

Box score

Scherzer wrapped up his 13th Major League season with a six-inning, 109-pitch performance. He struck out seven, walked two and allowed three runs off six hits (including two homers). With momentum at the end of the season, Scherzer threw a 96.9 mph strikeout against Amed Rosario in the second inning for his fourth-fastest strikeout pitch of the year.

Scherzer finished 2020 at 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA, his 11th straight year with a winning record.

“Those are results, and the results are -- to me -- part of the process,” Scherzer said. “You look at the process of how you’re getting there. At the end of the day [when] you reflect upon the season, the only thing I’m really disappointed in is that my walks were higher than usual. But at the end of the day, I was still able to pitch pretty darn well and find a way to navigate through and work with both catchers here.”

Scherzer was aided in offensive support by Andrew Stevenson, who tallied two home runs and extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Stevenson’s game-tying homer in the fifth never left the yard, after Mets left fielder Dominic Smith collided with the wall and was unable to field it.

This season, Scherzer led the Nationals with 92 strikeouts, including five starts with double-digit Ks. He also paced the team in innings pitched despite leaving his Aug. 5 start against the Mets after just one frame due to a tweaked right hamstring.

“I’m glad he finished up strong,” manager Dave Martinez said after the Nats won Game 2 to sweep the twin bill. “He feels good about himself going into the winter. Now he gets to rest for a little bit and get after it for 2021."

Scherzer climbed up the all-time rankings along the way. Among his accomplishments: He became the only starting pitcher in Major League history to post a strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate above 10.0 for nine consecutive qualified seasons (no one has done it for eight); he passed Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax to become fifth in 10-plus strikeout games; and he moved ahead of Frank Tanana for 23rd on the all-time strikeouts list.

“I feel like I did get better in some ways,” he said. “I really feel like my cutter was better this year. I made some adjustments on that coming into this year, and I really feel like we’ve seen some benefits from that. I was able to execute it this year on a whole pretty well. There were times when my curveball, I felt, was also better as well, and it was sharper as well.”

Even though this year was an abbreviated schedule, Scherzer plans to approach this offseason like he has others in the past. His goals are keeping his arm in shape to prepare for a healthy 2021 and study game film to stay ahead of his competition.

“I’m going to have to go through the offseason and really try to evaluate and look at these at-bats of how guys are approaching me, how they’re attacking me, what’s working, what’s not in certain situations," Scherzer said, "so that next year when I come back I can pitch more efficiently from the get-go and not have to try to wait until my 12th start before I finally feel good. That’s always a challenge every single year.

“But that’s the fun part of this -- that you got to go back and reinvent yourself, because the rest of the league is going to be finding ways to attack me to be able to do everything they can to beat me. You’ve got to match that type of mentality back at them.”

The baseball world will have to wait and see how the seven-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner reinvents himself for his 14th season.

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.