Scherzer takes mound to test postseason readiness

October 6th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- The health of Rangers pitcher looms large over the ALDS, and on the eve of Game 1 in Baltimore, there was a glimpse of what the best-case scenario could look like.

Scherzer, sidelined since sustaining a right teres major muscle strain on Sept. 12, threw a round of live batting practice on Friday, simulating two innings against teammates Austin Hedges, Josh H. Smith, Mitch Garver and Ezequiel Duran. Scherzer looked like himself on the mound, but this is more about how Scherzer feels Saturday morning, with ALDS rosters due by 10 a.m. CT.

“I’m in a learning curve,” Scherzer said immediately after the session. “I’m coming out of a shoulder problem here, and I’m learning what my shoulder can and can’t do. So much of this battle for me getting back has been in the recovery process from throwing. It’s a positive sign to go out there and go against hitters, but I’ve got to recover.”

Even against teammates, Scherzer was a show. He shook off his catcher two or three times in a row at points.

A pair of at-bats by Hedges captured the session perfectly. In one, Hedges popped up behind the mound and Scherzer waved his arms in the air dramatically, calling off the infielders who weren’t there. When Scherzer dropped the ball, his teammates erupted with cheers and jeers from the dugout.

Next time up, Hedges swung over a fantastic breaking ball down and away before Scherzer blew a fastball by him, up and in. This clearly isn’t a matter of Scherzer’s stuff, only his health, and he is open to returning in any role the Rangers need.

“It’s all hands on deck, I get it. I will do anything for the team to be able to go out there,” Scherzer said. “Obviously, the guys in here know. They could watch what I was doing and they’ll comment on what I should do going forward. It’s not my decision. I can only communicate what I feel.”

Whether it’s in this ALDS against the Orioles or in a potential ALCS against the Astros or Twins, Scherzer has put himself in position to write a classic postseason story with the Rangers. Acquired from the Mets to boost a rotation battling injuries, including the loss of ace Jacob deGrom, Scherzer put up a 3.20 ERA over eight starts with Texas.

His postseason experience speaks for itself. Scherzer owns a career 3.58 ERA over 133 1/3 postseason innings, making 22 starts and coming out of the bullpen five times. The Rangers would love to have seven dominant innings of Scherzer, of course, but he hasn’t pitched in a game in more than three weeks.

“I respect what I’m doing,” Scherzer said. “I understand what I’m going up against. There’s a lot of things I’m going up against here in this recovery process. It’s been a challenging couple of weeks for me here.”

Been there, done that 
For those looking for separators in this ALDS matchup, there is one clear one the Rangers believe tips the scale in their favor: playoff experience.

At most, Baltimore’s ALDS roster can feature as many as five players with postseason experience -- starting pitchers Kyle Gibson and Jack Flaherty, backup catcher James McCann, utility player Adam Frazier and depth outfielder Aaron Hicks. Game 1 of this ALDS will mark fifth-year skipper Brandon Hyde’s first postseason game as a big league manager. 

The Rangers’ roster, meanwhile, is littered with veterans with accomplished October résumés, from 2020 World Series MVP Corey Seager to Nathan Eovaldi and many others. And they are managed by three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy.

“At this point, winning is everything to us,” said Rangers second baseman , in his fourth postseason. “We have players who have won World Series who know the feeling. I'm seeing playoff Corey Seager versus regular and regular was an MVP candidate. But seeing the way he's going about his business in the playoffs versus the regular season, it's a step above.”

How do “regular Seager” and “playoff Seager” differ?

“I just see a different bounce in his step,” Semien said. “It's just a little different. Obviously, he's been hitting the entire year. He's going to hit. He had maybe a slow last week of the season. We showed up in Tampa, and he's back locked in with four big hits for us.

“And that's what I've watched [from afar] over the years. As the Dodgers went further and further every year, it was Corey Seager leading that team.”

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the experience advantage the Rangers have on paper translates to the field for what will be Baltimore’s first postseason appearance since 2016.

“I've always loved playing in the playoffs,” Semien said. “It actually is kind of calming for me to hear more noise and just more chaos. And I think that comes with age. I know they have a lot of guys who have not played in the playoffs yet, so we'll see how they come out.”