Scherzer finds positives in ALCS start despite struggles

October 19th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- Every postseason start is precious to . Some of them just require a closer look.

Scherzer’s surprisingly speedy return to the mound got out of hand early on Wednesday, as the Rangers took their first loss of this postseason in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

The veteran right-hander, who had been sidelined since Sept. 12 with a right teres major strain, allowed five earned runs over four innings in Texas’ 8-5 loss to the Astros at Globe Life Field.

It wasn’t the ideal result, but Scherzer is choosing to focus on the positives.

“Look, there were some bad things, I get it,” Scherzer said. “But that’s where you’ve got to tune it out and look at the good, what I was able to do well. I made some mistakes, I was punished, I get it. But I also did some things well.”

Perhaps the most positive takeaway is that Scherzer says his arm feels fine after 63 pitches.

“Physically, actually, [I feel] really good,” Scherzer said. “The arm responded well and I still feel like I had stuff in the tank.”

A low-grade strain to the teres major -- a rotation-related muscle in the shoulder -- usually requires eight to 12 weeks to fully heal. Scherzer returned after five weeks, working tirelessly and lobbying manager Bruce Bochy for a chance in the ALCS.

That commitment doesn’t come as a surprise. Scherzer is known for his fire.

“The guy is hungry to get out there and pitch,” Bochy said on Tuesday. “He's a competitor. All of you know him -- that's who he is. He wants to be part of this. He wants to help this team any way he can.”

That’s what Scherzer did in a clean first inning, but the second frame brewed trouble from the start.

Scherzer hit Yordan Alvarez with a pitch on an 0-2 count to lead it off. A one-out walk and a single loaded the bases for the Astros, but after Scherzer got Jeremy Peña to pop up for the second out, Texas fans got loud again, hoping for a narrow escape.

With Martín Maldonado at the plate, Scherzer spiked a slider in the dirt that catcher Jonah Heim couldn’t handle, allowing Alvarez to score on a wild pitch. Maldonado then smoked a fastball for a two-run single, and things could have gotten worse had the Rangers’ defense not teamed up to throw out Maldonado at second base to end the rally.

“That’s just baseball,” said Heim. “Sometimes, the dominoes just don’t fall in your favor.

“I definitely could’ve blocked [the slider],” he added. “It just kind of clipped off my glove. I thought I was in a good spot, but it took a weird bounce. And then we just left some [pitches] in the middle of the plate there.”

Scherzer’s slider was the biggest issue, often hitting the dirt or hanging over the plate as he struggled to command it. The velocity was there and his other pitches played well, too, but as a pitcher builds back up after a lengthy layoff, the slider is usually the last thing to get back on track.

As superhuman as the 39-year-old Scherzer may seem at times, those tendencies apply to him too.

“He's going to be a little rusty, it's been a month since he's been out there,” said Bochy. “But, overall, I was really pleased with the stuff. It's only going to get better with him.”

That would be a welcome scenario for the Rangers and Scherzer, whose four-frame outing marked his shortest postseason start since 2011 with the Tigers. This was also the third consecutive time Scherzer pitched fewer than five innings in a playoff start.

Still, he holds all of them fondly.

“Postseason starts are always precious,” Scherzer said ahead of Game 3. “You're playing for a ring. When you get to this point in the year, this is what you dream of. All the sacrifices you make in your life, all the hard work you put in throughout the offseason, is to get to this moment, to get to this spot. So, here we are.”

Would Scherzer’s manager still give him the ball in Game 3 if he got a do-over?

“Yeah, I'd let him do it again,” said Bochy. “ … He's one of our guys. We had him ready, facing hitters, we did all we could to get him ready for this. He was ready, you saw the stuff.

“He's one of our guys. There's no regret on that.”