February 17th, 2014

Spring Training Day 4: Scherzer takes his role

Spring Training 012

Max Scherzer can’t compete against himself. If he tries to top his 2013 season, he’s going to be fighting a losing battle. So instead, he’s already competing against his teammates, at least in his mind.

Tigers hitters won’t step into the batters box against pitchers until full-squad workouts begin Tuesday, but Scherzer needed some competition in his second bullpen session of the spring. So as Scherzer prepared to throw to Bryan Holaday, while Victor Martinez and Alex Avila watched from the sidelines, Scherzer pretended as if he was facing them — first Martinez, then Avila.

“Start him off with a fastball,” Scherzer said, predicting Martinez would take the first pitch. “We’ll set him up.”

In came the fastball.

“Gone,” Avila said, pretending to track a ball sail out to right field.

Not in Scherzer’s mind. And since this was Scherzer’s session, the imaginary at-bat went on, Scherzer approaching the switch-hitting Martinez like a left-handed hitter. Scherzer dropped in a curveball, then another one, setting up a high fastball. Then Scherzer delivered his knockout pitch.

“AH!!! Got him! No way he’s hitting that,” Scherzer exclaimed, pumping his fist.

On to the next hitter.

“Alex, first and second, two outs,” Scherzer said as he stood on the back of the bullpen mound.

Scherzer proceeded with another game plan, mixing in breaking stuff with fastballs. At one point, he lost a heater up and inside.

“I’m out for the next three games after that one,” Avila said.

“Don’t kid yourself. You’re jumping out of the way,” Scherzer said.

That put the count to 3-1. After another pitch off the plate, Scherzer — still with plenty of pitches before his limit — hit the reset button.

“Let’s do Alex all over again,” Scherzer told Holaday.

“He’s intimidated,” Avila told his backup.

Another fastball, another disagreement.

“Game over,” Avila said, hinting at a walkoff homer.

“Foul tip,” Scherzer contended, arguing he’d be late on the swing.

By this point, the other pitchers had finished their sessions. Over on the next mound, Anibal Sanchez was long since done, but standing around watching this unfold, suggesting pitches. Brad Ausmus let them have their fun. Martinez had gone back in.

As far as Scherzer’s concerned, he finished his session by striking out Avila, and celebrated as such. Avila let him have his fun.

Much as Tigers fans don’t want to consider the possibility, this could be a real showdown next season, depending on Scherzer’s contract situation. For today, though, it was a reminder that even Major Leaguers sometimes motivate themselves by imagining scenarios.

It’s also a nice reminder that while Justin Verlander works his way back from surgery, there’s still somebody atop the Tigers rotation with a disdain for hitters, no matter what uniform they wear.