Game 68: It’s not just about wins with Scherzer
Max Scherzer clearly doesn’t want to be known as the guy who just wins games. He called wins and losses a “flukey” stat when he picked up his ninth win last Tuesday in Kansas City, and he brought out the term again when he beat the Orioles Monday night.
At 10-0, though, the narrative is hard to control. At this point, he’s better off enjoying the history.
“When you start realizing the history of this organization, to be 10-0, it’s great,” Scherzer said. “But at the same time, win-loss is kind of a flukey stat. Sometimes when you play with a good offensive team, you can run into these types of streaks.
“The reason I’m pitching well isn’t because I’m 10-0, it’s because of the other things I’m doing. I’m inducing quick outs, pitching deeper into games, generating strikeouts, minimizing walks, doing all the little things it takes to be a good pitcher. So that’s what I hang my hat on of being a good pitcher.”
The only other starting pitcher in Tigers history to go 10-0 to start a season was George Mullin in 1909. He went 11-0 on his way to a 29-8 season that year. A bio from David Cicotello from SABR says he was known for a “fearful fastball and biting curve.”
That said, Mullin struck out 124 batters over 303 2/3 innings in that 1909 season, posting a 29-8 record with a 2.22 ERA. Scherzer will have a chance to match or top that strikeout total in his next start, having fanned 116 batters over 96 1/3 innings so far.
His curveball, a pitch he developed last year, is now a legitimate part of his arsenal, and a big reason in Scherzer’s view behind his success. Leyland sees better pitching overall.
“I think his command is better,” Leyland said. “I think that other pitch has helped him. Those are two things that would add up it a little more. I think he has a terrific fastball. I think it’s harder to pick up and it’s hard to say something’s sneaky when it’s 94 or 95 but I think it kind of is. Some guy’s deliveries, you can see it all the way, there’s not much deception. But I think his is almost, it kind of shoots out. It’s a little different.”
As his strikeout of Chris Davis with the bases loaded in the fifth shows, Scherzer can throw his fastball right where he wants it, too. He threw to Pena’s mitt on his 1-2 and 2-2 fastballs, and Pena barely made a move. His 97 mph fastball on the full count, after Davis had fouled off a changeup, would’ve been ball four had Davis held off. But he chased it.
“It was a ball,” Davis said. “Like I said, when you’re throwing that hard and you’re throwing a number of pitches for strikes, you assume that he’s going to throw a strike. I was looking for a ball over the plate. He got me to chase.”
Maybe Scherzer can dismiss 10-0 as flukey. His numbers over the past 365 days are tougher to brush off. He’s now 21-3 with a 2.78 ERA since last June 17, striking out 259 batters over 213 2/3 innings.
Pitch of the game: Scherzer claims it was the 3-1 pitch to Nick Markakis with two on and one out in that fifth inning.
“I felt like it was a fastball count, and I was ready to throw a fastball,” Scherzer said. “I’d just missed with a 2-1 changeup low in the zone, and he did a great job of taking it, because I felt that was a great pitch. It was 3-1, first and second one out. I mean, that’s a bad situation to be in. And Pena put down changeup again. It took a second, but all of a sudden I trusted him.”
Everyone else said it was the at-bat against Davis, and staying composed to execute a fastball on 3-2 that was good enough to get a swing and miss.
“The fact that Davis got pretty good at-bats against us the previous two at-bats, for Max to strike him out with a fastball, that says a lot about Max,” Pena said. “He showed there that he’s one of the best, if not 1-2, I think, him and Justin. He’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable, the fact that he was giving us everything that he got in that inning, especially after those two very close calls.”
Line of the night: As good as Scherzer was, you have to give the pitching line of the night to Drew Smyly, who threw three perfect innings in relief of Scherzer for his second save of three or more innings this year.
Stat of the night: 7 – Sacrifice flies by Victor Martinez this year, tying him for the Major League lead with Albert Pujols. Martinez is 2-for-11 with a runner on third base and less than two outs this year, but he has 12 RBIs thanks to the sac flies.
Print it: “The 2-2 was the [close] one. I turned around, not trying to show him up, because I would never do that, but he screamed. He usually screams before he rings somebody up. That’s why I thought that he was ringing him up, but he didn’t.” — Pena on the close call on the 2-2 pitch to Davis.