Scherzer gives new meaning to 'command'
CHICAGO -- Manager Matt Williams was a bench coach with the D-backs a few years ago and got to watch a young Max Scherzer work on a regular basis.
The way Williams sees it, Scherzer had the same stuff then but wasn't close to being the pitcher who dominated the Cubs in a 3-0 win on Wednesday.
"He's got a real good plan for everybody that he faces," Williams said. "He's diligent about it, he takes time to work on it and he's got extra gears that a lot of people don't have. He threw one fastball 98 [mph], for crying out loud. When he needs to reach back, he can do it."
Scherzer (6-3) cruised through the formidable Cubs' lineup. He tossed seven shutout innings and struck out 13, but that doesn't begin to describe how in complete command he was. It was the promise of performances like this that caused the Nationals to be big spenders on the free-agent market over the winter.
"He's unbelievable," said Bryce Harper, whose solo homer backed Scherzer's cause. "He's definitely as good as advertised. I'm glad he's on our team, because he's a lot of fun to watch. He goes out there and competes and he's such a bulldog out there. To have a guy like that to play behind is something very special, and we tip our cap to him every time he's out there."
Scherzer lowered his ERA to an impressive 1.51, but the mention of his numbers didn't draw much of a reaction.
"Numbers are going to take care of themselves," Scherzer said. "I'm not worried about good numbers or bad numbers. You worry about the process. You worry about how you're throwing the ball, how you're executing your pitches. I really feel like I'm locating the fastball well, and I'm starting to get better now at executing righty-righty changeups. That's been one of my strengths my whole career, and I don't feel like I've done it as well early in the season.
"Tonight I felt like I threw a couple of really good righty-righty changeups. Once I can get that pitch going, it just gives me another weapon to attack these hitters."
That's really bad news for National League hitters.
Before the game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon lamented the fact that Scherzer followed him to the NL this season after both spent time in the American League. This performance did nothing to change those feelings.
"He was pretty good," Maddon said. "He didn't lose anything [during the game]. There was no letup in his stuff, location. I've seen it before, way too often."
Jon Lester (4-3) started for the Cubs. The matchup was billed as a marquee meeting between the top two prizes of last offseason's free-agent market, and it didn't disappoint. Both pitchers were sharp. Scherzer was just a little bit better.
"You just have to bring your 'A' game," Scherzer said. "I've faced [Lester] before, and he can absolutely deal. You know how good he is, and you just know that you have to match him. You have to go through your scouting report and keep executing everything that you need to do, because there's going to be no room for error. Because if you slip up, he'll make you pay for it."
On this night there was no slipping up for Scherzer, who allowed five hits and only walked one.
But more than his stuff, his new teammates have been impressed with his determination.
"It's amazing the switch he has," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "For seven or eight innings, he goes out there and doesn't talk to anyone, he's laser-focused and then he comes out of the game and he's in the dugout rooting for everyone and having a good time.
"His intensity level is very high, and his work ethic is second to none. The guy's an animal. It's been a really fun experience playing behind him so far."