For 6th time in 7 seasons, Max gets OD start

March 21st, 2021

The tradition continues -- will be the Nationals’ Opening Day starter for the sixth time in seven seasons.

“He’s ready,” manager Dave Martinez said following the Nats’ 6-2 loss to the Mets on Sunday. “He’s the guy that gets everything started for us. He competes. We know what we’re going to get from him. He loves Opening Day, so he’s the guy we’re going to follow Opening Day.”

The 36-year-old Scherzer built up to 90 pitches against the Mets and Jacob deGrom, the same team and starter he will face on April 1 at Nationals Park. He pitched five innings, allowing four runs on six hits (including two home runs), with six strikeouts and one walk. Even though there were missteps with location on the homers, Martinez lauded the way Scherzer is “throwing the ball with less effort” this spring.

“Everything's kind of fluid,” Martinez said. “His mechanics, he’s got a little bit more deception. I know he wasn’t throwing the 95, 96s [miles per hour], but it looks like his 92, 93s were on the hitters. That tells me that he’s harnessing in on his mechanics, the ball’s coming out. So that's a good sign.”

Scherzer has thrown 13 2/3 innings over four Grapefruit League starts this year. He has recorded 20 strikeouts while allowing nine hits, six runs and three walks. He has a 0.88 WHIP and has held opponents to a .180 batting average.

Scherzer is scheduled to make his final start of Spring Training on Saturday in a “B” game against the Astros. He wants to use that outing to fine-tune his pitches, including his slider, and his sequences. Even though he will take the mound at an empty Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, he likes the challenges the environment presents.

“There’s going to be games where you’re not going to have a single fan, so it’s a mind game where you’re not going to have anything in a game, but yet you’ve got to mentally bring it,” Scherzer said. “I can get a lot out of pitching on Saturday that will be useful for the season as well.”

Scherzer also has begun getting prepared for a return to hitting. A career .193 hitter, he has been taking swings in the cages, and he asked Martinez to put him in the lineup against deGrom on Sunday. Scherzer, who struck out, described being back in the batter’s box as “weird.”

“The fact that I haven’t been in the box in so long -- probably a year, year and a half -- and then the first pitch is 100 [miles per hour] ... So, welcome to the big leagues," he said.

Scherzer is coming off a 2020 season in which he posted a 3.74 ERA and a 5-4 record, his 11th straight above-.500 season. Over his 13-year career, he is 12-5 with a 2.70 ERA in 23 starts against the Mets.

“I enjoy going out there and competing against Max,” deGrom said. “Those are normally fun games, and we both love competing, so we go out there and try to leave it all out on the field. Whoever had the better day is probably going to win that game.”