deGrom and Scherzer learn from the best: Each other

The rotation-mates combined for 12 strikeouts and 3 earned runs in Sunday's game

March 27th, 2022

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As polished off the last of his nine allotted outs on Sunday, warmed up behind the left-field fence at Clover Park, where an elevated perch gave fans an opportunity to catch a glimpse of both. On one side was deGrom, a two-time Cy Young Award winner. On the other was Scherzer, the winner of three.

If Spring Training is meant to prepare players for the regular season, then Sunday provided the most realistic model. A festival atmosphere lit up Clover Park, in large part because of the day’s rare event: deGrom and Scherzer, two of their generation’s finest pitchers, working for the same team in the same game on the same day. Fans wore T-shirts proclaiming their fidelity to deGrom, or Scherzer, or in many cases both. Mets owner Steve Cohen peered down from his box behind home plate.

This sort of thing -- a pair of multi-time Cy Young winners appearing together -- has never happened in the regular season. The fact that this game counted for little more than bragging rights did nothing to mute the ambience in Port St. Lucie.

“That was fun, huh?” manager Buck Showalter said after the pair combined to strike out 12 batters over nine innings of a 7-3 win over the Cardinals.

Of course, the Mets did not sign Scherzer to a three-year contract this winter, guaranteeing him and deGrom more than a quarter of a billion dollars combined, to draw crowds in March. They did so because they understood that adding Scherzer was their most accessible shortcut to October glory. The Mets aren’t nearly as interested in Scherzer’s three prior Cy Youngs as they are in what he can do over the next three seasons.

They are also interested in what he can accomplish within the clubhouse walls. Already this spring, many Mets pitchers have discussed watching Scherzer, soaking in his knowledge either directly or through figurative osmosis. While that may seem unnecessary for someone like deGrom, who already knows darn well how to prepare and how to pitch, such a thought process discounts deGrom’s ability to evolve, which has been a key factor in his success to this point.

To that end, deGrom said he recently solicited his new teammate’s expertise on his curveball -- a pitch that Scherzer began throwing several years into his big-league career and that he’s relied on a bit more in recent seasons. deGrom’s own curve is an offering that he’s shied away from using heavily, in large part because he detests the idea of someone beating him on his fourth-best pitch. But perhaps Scherzer is already changing that line of thinking; Sunday, deGrom threw three consecutive curves in the second inning, in what he described as a deliberate effort to test the pitch against opposing batters.

“You know, he’s been in this league a long time, and he’s faced these guys a bunch,” deGrom said. “To learn how he goes after them is big.”

Last Tuesday, as deGrom started a night game at Clover Park, Scherzer stuck around the complex to watch, hanging over the dugout railing throughout deGrom’s two innings against the Astros. The only part of piggybacking with Scherzer on Sunday that deGrom didn’t enjoy was the fact that his postgame routine, including arm care and media obligations, took him away from watching his rotation-mate pitch in relief.

Had deGrom seen Scherzer’s six-inning performance, he would have watched a player whose competitiveness matches his own. After buzzing through the Cardinals 1-2-3 in the eighth, Scherzer returned to the dugout in a somewhat agitated state. He said later that he was upset with some of his pitch locations throughout the afternoon, particularly his fastballs to left-handed hitters.

It’s the type of perfectionism for which deGrom has long been known in New York. Now, there are two of them in the Mets clubhouse, watching each other and learning from each other twice every five days.

“We’re always looking to get better,” Scherzer said. “I’m learning from him and what he can do with the baseball, how he pitches and how he sequences. That’s the best thing about this -- we can all learn from each other.