Max-imum effort: Scherzer perfect in quick debut
Tigers right-hander fires two perfect innings in Sunday's win over the Braves
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer wasn't going to get sentimental about his return, no matter how many times he was asked over the past couple weeks. As good as last year was, as much question as his shoulder created at season's end, Scherzer was moving on.
As quickly as he pitched on Sunday, he didn't really have a chance to get sentimental.
For someone whose return was so eagerly anticipated, Scherzer's first outing of the spring was here and gone uneventfully. The man whose turning point in 2012 seemed to come in a 119-pitch, 4 2/3-innings marathon got six outs in 14 pitches. He threw more pitches in the bullpen than he did on the actual mound.
"Usually when that happens, I'm getting shelled," Scherzer joked, noting previous Spring Training clunkers.
Scherzer had fun with this one, self-deprecating humor and all. It was just like getting on a bicycle, even if he didn't want to say it like that.
Six months after Scherzer went into September dominating hitters and leading the Majors in strikeouts, he felt like he had much the same delivery. He didn't fall in and out of his mechanics. He didn't throw pitches that got blistered, like he has done more than a few times in Spring Training starts. The right-hander didn't even get bogged down talking about pitching motions and release points.
Scherzer got the ball, got his delivery and threw. A few pitches later, he was done. For someone who usually loses and finds his form once or twice in Spring Training, and again early in the year, it looked easy. He looked like a composed, confident, experienced pitcher. After a year that for some vaulted Scherzer into the lead pack of the game's nastiest pitchers, he looks like somebody no longer searching for his form or his confidence.
"I know more. That's anything in life," Scherzer said. "The more experience you get, you know how to self-correct things, make adjustments. I'm a better pitcher now. I'm more consistent than I was when I first came over. As a professional athlete, that's what we're all trying to do."
Scherzer believes he can be more consistent. He wants to carry over what he did for the final four months into a full season and see what he can do. The fact that nobody's wondering who the real Scherzer is anymore as a pitcher is a step in the right direction.
Manager Jim Leyland has a pretty good idea.
"So far, in his career with us, I've seen two periods of time when he got in a good slot repeatedly in his delivery on a pretty normal basis," Leyland said. "And he's been lights-out both times he did that for that period of time. So if he can maintain that, that consistency, who knows? He's pretty good."
The mechanical fix last season was the key. It took a while to take hold, and pitching coach Jeff Jones had to put in repeated efforts to get his hands at the right point when he went to the plate, and when to get his ball hand out of his glove. Once he got the mechanics, he never lost it, not even when the muscular soreness in his shoulder became a serious problem down the stretch. His slider, his third best pitch in his opinion, was the best he has ever thrown it in his opinion, becoming a legitimate out pitch.
After going so long this winter without throwing, those mechanics were at least a little in question. Even Scherzer joked Saturday that he would probably either dominate or walk the house, as he put it.
He sounded pretty comfortable after Sunday's outing.
"When you struggle and you find something mechanically that works for you, you don't have to write it down," Scherzer said. "That's instilled. I know exactly what it feels like to have my hands break in front of my body. Now it's just second nature."
The Braves' aggressiveness helped. After three popouts in the first inning, the last two on 0-2 counts, Scherzer did much the same in the second before sending down Dan Uggla on a fastball on the outside corner.
He threw 15 or 20 more pitches in the bullpen, by his estimation, while Doug Fister took the mound and got in his work. As long as Scherzer has nothing more than normal soreness, he'll go back out and try to stretch out his arm to about 45 pitches on Friday, when the Tigers host the Mets.
Scherzer isn't thinking about his health. He's just thinking about a routine. Prepare, throw, repeat.
"I'm not going to think about getting hurt or anything like that," he said. "I'm just going to think about my next start, going out there and throwing 45 pitches next start. That's all I can worry about."