Scherzer re­mains a hit for Na­tion­als

Tampa Bay Times - - Raysreport -

Ear­lier this month, Max Scherzer walked past a mari­achi band per­form­ing on the field at Na­tion­als Park for Cinco de Mayo and couldn’t help him­self. He wasn’t sched­uled to take bat­ting prac­tice that day; none of the Na­tion­als’ start­ing pitch­ers were. That didn’t mat­ter. The op­por­tu­nity was too en­tic­ing.

“I’ve gotta hit BP,” Scherzer said. “When else do you get to hit to a mari­achi band?”

So Scherzer grabbed his bat­ting gloves and bat, jumped in with a group of position play­ers and took his hacks. A year ago, Scherzer, ar­guably the best pitcher on the planet, wasn’t tak­ing bat­ting prac­tice. He was ad­vised not to take the ex­tra swings to pro­tect his right ring fin­ger, which had de­vel­oped a stress frac­ture the pre­vi­ous sea­son. Pitch­ing was his sole fo­cus for most of the year. It wasn’t un­til Au­gust that Scherzer fi­nally took BP for the first time.

The im­pact was ev­i­dent, if over­looked; Scherzer bat­ted .161 in 72 plate ap­pear­ances, the low­est bat­ting av­er­age he ever has posted over a full sea­son in the NL. He slugged his first home run Aug. 1 but in­sists it was lucky and only hap­pened be­cause he couldn’t move his neck, which forced him to exit the game an in­ning later. Of course, Scherzer’s hit­ting wasn’t a topic of con­ver­sa­tion as he earned his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive NL Cy Young Award.

This year, Scherzer’s hit­ting has not gone un­no­ticed. Ev­ery fifth day, he’s seen with his gray bat­ting gloves on, bat in hand, an in­tense look in his eyes as he shut­tles be­tween the club­house and bat­ting cage a cou­ple of hours be­fore first pitch. Hit­ting is part of his un­ri­valed prepa­ra­tion again and, not co­in­ci­den­tally, Scherzer has at least one hit in six of his nine starts this sea­son. In his last out­ing, against the Di­a­mond­backs last Fri­day, he went 2-for-3 with an RBI ground-rule dou­ble, rais­ing his av­er­age to .292.

Only Ari­zona’s Patrick Corbin and his .294 has a higher bat­ting av­er­age among pitch­ers with at least 20 plate ap­pear­ances this sea­son. Since 2016, Scherzer leads all pitch­ers with 30 hits and is sec­ond with 20 RBIs.

“We’re a re­ally a strong lineup one through eight — one through nine when Max is in there,” RF Bryce Harper noted.

Scherzer, 33, vowed he could some­how im­prove as a pitcher this sea­son af­ter con­sec­u­tive Cy Youngs and so far he has, com­pil­ing a 1.69 ERA and an NL-best 91 strike­outs through nine starts. He had wanted to steal a base for years and, with man­ager Dave Martinez’s green light, he fi­nally swiped one last month. And last month — on a day he struck out 10 in six in­nings in a blowout win over the Gi­ants — Scherzer was mad at him­self for not extending his four-game hit­ting streak.

Six days later, he ripped an RBI sin­gle and scored two runs while strik­ing out eight in an­other win.

“Most pitch­ers don’t think like Max,” Martinez said.

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