Scherzer remains a hit for Nationals
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.