By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Max Scherzer followed up Saturday’s eight-inning, one-run, 11-strikeout performance in Toronto by turning in an eight-inning, no-run, 14-strikeout performance in front of the home crowd Thursday.
“His curveball was real good,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “His change-up was good, his fastball’s generally always good, his change-up was very good, but his curveball, he threw a couple of curveballs today harder than normal, down and in on left-handed hitters. He got a strikeout on one. Usually his curveball’s more of an offspeed pitch on the outer half of the plate. He’s been working on it a little bit, throwing it harder on the inside part to lefties. He threw a couple good ones today there.”
The timing of Scherzer’s dominance was fortuitous for the Tigers, who played a 19-inning game Sunday, got only one inning from starting pitcher Justin Verlander on Monday and are currently without the services of veteran reliever Joakim Soria.
Scherzer always preaches improvement, and as usual, he continues to work to back up those words. Two starts earlier, against the New York Yankees, Scherzer lasted seven innings, gave up two runs on nine hits, walked three and struck out four. The bottom line numbers – seven innings, two runs – hardly scream for changes, but Scherzer thought he could be better.
“In New York, it just wasn’t quite right, walking guys and the pitches just didn’t have the life that they typically do,” Scherzer said. “I knew something was just a little off. It took the next bullpen to figure out what kind of was off – what was off, why was I spinning off the ball and all the different things that happened.
“After the Yankees start, I made a little tweak on how my body was working – still using my legs and dipping down in my legs but keeping my top half tall as I do that, and it allows me to really be able to work down in the zone and drive everything down … It also puts life on the fastball, and after that start, that’s why I feel like I was able to really throw the ball where I wanted to in Toronto and today,” Scherzer continued. “I always have the mentality [that] I’m always going to be better than I was previously. Right now, I’m better than I was. Where my arsenal is at, it’s the best it’s been. Even though that’s great, you’ve always got to find ways to keep getting better. That’s what I’ll be doing.”
Scherzer burst onto the national scene in 2013 largely because of his streak of 13 wins – an impressive statistic and in some ways indicative of performance but easily one of the less trustworthy measures of a pitcher’s value. (See Chris Sale.)
Scherzer’s ability manifested in other ways, too, of course. He finished the season with a 2.90 ERA and 0.970 WHIP. He started the All-Star Game for the American League, and he won a Cy Young.
His numbers this season have not been quite as good, and the accolades have not flowed quite as freely, but none of that matters much to Scherzer.
“Coming off these last two starts and where I’m at, I’m a better pitcher than I was last year,” Scherzer said. “That was my mindset coming in this year. I was going to be a better pitcher than I was last year – take all the numbers, throw them out, I’m not referencing wins and loses or anything. If you look at how I’m pitching and what I’m able to execute, I’m executing all my pitches at a higher level right now. That’s something that I strive for.
“It’s taken kind of to the second half to kind of get everything in sync to be at that level,” Scherzer added, “but I feel like I’m at a level where I’m better than I was last year, and that’s my goal, is to keep getting better.”