By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – The first time new Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus met starting pitcher Max Scherzer, the hurler told Ausmus he would always be honest with him. Ausmus reminded Scherzer of that conversation Wednesday, when Ausmus visited the mound to see if Scherzer could finish out the eighth inning of a one-run game against the Kansas City Royals.
“I was at a point where he could face the next hitter, or we could go to the bullpen, so I asked him how he felt and reminded him that he was going to be honest with me, and he gave me a response that I liked, that he wanted to stay in, and in a manner that made it seem like he wanted to stay in, so he really made the decision for me.”
Trusting Scherzer worked out well. Scherzer had given up a double to the first batter he faced in the eighth, but he struck out the next two. It was then that Ausmus trotted out for a meeting on the mound.
“He asked me how I’m doing, and I was honest. I told him, ‘I’m tired,'” Scherzer said with a smile after the game. “I was tired, but when it got down to it, I looked who was coming up. I wanted to face [Alcides] Escobar, I wanted to be in that game, and I wanted to get out of this inning, and fortunately I was able to make the pitches to be able to do that.
“I’m not a hero – I don’t try to take the ball when I shouldn’t,” Scherzer added. “That’s something that I’ve always done my entire career because it’s better to be smart than dumb, and I’m going to tell him exactly how I feel, and I told him exactly how I felt today.”
Scherzer got a fly out to end the inning, and fans rewarded him with a standing ovation. The Tigers went on to win 2-1 in 10 innings.
For as solid as Scherzer’s performance turned out to be, the defending American League Cy Young Award winner got off to a shaky start. He walked the first batter he faced and gave up a single to the next one.
At that point, Scherzer was in trouble. The Royals had two men on base, one out and slugger Billy Butler at the plate. Butler got ahead in the count, 3-0. He ended up grounding into a double play, ending the inning.
“I had an inclination that he was going to be swinging there, just given the context of the game and where we were at, so I knew I needed to be aggressive with the fastball there,” Scherzer said. “I couldn’t just lay in a cookie, and fortunate enough I was able to get it away and fortunate enough I was able to get him to roll over. I’m sure he’s looking to do damage there, and to be able to get a double play out of that situation was huge.”
After that ugly first inning, Scherzer said, he went to the clubhouse to reset, and his game got better from there.
“I wasn’t firing at 100 percent mentality-wise, and I came up here, had to kick a few things – literally, I kicked the laundry bin,” Scherzer admitted with a chuckle. “I had to get myself mentally going, fired up and bringing the intensity and start throwing strike one because that’s my game plan – come right at you.
“I know they’re great hitters over there, and I really respect what they are able to do offensively, but I need to be aggressive and go right back at them,” Scherzer continued. “I feel like after that first inning I was able to do that.”
After that rough first inning, Scherzer faced the minimum through the next six innings. He finished strong in the eighth inning despite allowing a leadoff double, and the crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation.