April 25th, 2011
Four weeks ago, Max Scherzer stood in the visiting clubhouse in Sarasota and looked like someone in deep, deep — well, concern.
“I’m not going to write anything off,” Scherzer said after giving up more runs (11 earned) and hits (nine) that day than he recorded outs (seven). “I wanted to be dialed in today, and I wasn’t. I look forward to making the adjustments I need to make going into my first start.”
Mechanically, he was off, and it was hurting his velocity. His normal power fastball was coming in around the low 90s rather than mid-90s, leaving not a whole lot of difference between that and his changeup. And it clearly bothered him.
For the spring, Scherzer allowed 20 earned runs on 25 hits over 17 1/3 innings with 10 walks and 12 strikeouts. The thing was, for all the issues with his fastball and his overall command, his slider was biting better than it ever had.
Four weeks later, that’s turning out to be a valuable pitch for him. Now that he has his workhorse pitches in order, he has a better three-pitch package than ever, and he isn’t afraid to mix it.
I remember talking with Scherzer about his pitches at one point in the spring, and his slider seemed like a distant third on the confidence level. That seems to be changing. More and more, it’s looking like an offspeed pitch he can play off his changeup. A look at the stats so far on fangraphs.com shows he’s throwing it slower, and getting more movement out of it.
According to the data from MLB.com Gameday and posted on brooksbaseball.net, he threw more sliders than changeups Sunday against the White Sox. That might not be all that accurate, since the two pitches can look similar at times. But even if it’s a little bit off, it shows he’s throwing it more after getting away from it the last couple years.
Meanwhile, a mechanical adjustment over his first two starts has him back in form with his normal fastball-changeup combination. The result is a difficult mix for hitters to handle.
The next couple starts are going to be interesting for Scherzer. No team had more base hits off Scherzer last year than the Indians, and that was largely without a healthy Grady Sizemore. Travis Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo are a combined 11-for-19 off Scherzer, and they’ll get their first look of the year at him Friday night in Cleveland. After that, it’s a rematch with the Yankees, who used the friendly dimensions of their stadium to homer four times off him April 3. He has a challenge ahead, but at least it looks different than the challenge he faced coming out of spring training.