PATH TO HIS­TORY

With lat­est mark be­hind him, Scherzer eyes 3,000 strike­outs

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

Re­mem­ber Jack Cas­sel? No? Max Scherzer does. He was the first. Vic­tim No. 1 of what has be­come 2,005.

Let’s refresh the brain: Cas­sel, older brother to quar­ter­back Matt, had a brief ma­jor-league ca­reer as a start­ing pitcher. He swung at and missed a fast­ball from Scherzer on April 29, 2008, to be­come Scherzer’s first strike­out. A then-23-year-old Scherzer was mak­ing his ma­jor-league de­but for the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs. He was a hot-shot firstround pick, drafted 11th over­all two years prior by a scout­ing de­part­ment which Mike Rizzo ran. That day, Scherzer struck out seven in 4 in­nings out of the bullpen. Cur­rent team­mate Stephen Drew was watch­ing from short­stop.

“He had a phe­nom­e­nal arm,” Drew said. “We knew he was go­ing to put it to­gether sooner or later.”

Michael Bourn be­came Scherzer’s sec­ond strike­out vic­tim. Miguel Te­jada fol­lowed with a strike­out. Lance Berk­man led off the next in­ning with a strike­out. Those three and Cas­sel were the first grains in what has grown to an ex­pan­sive pile. Nine years later, Texas left fielder No­mar Mazara be­came Scherzer’s 2,000th. A 90 mph slider did the job.

Scherzer’s ca­reer arc since sit­ting down Cas­sel prompts a ques­tion: Can he make it to 3,000 strike­outs?

The 3,000-strike­out club has be­come pro­gres­sively exclusive, but Scherzer has a clear path to join it.

Of the 16 pitch­ers to reach the mark, none has done so in fewer than Bob Gib­son’s 17 sea­sons.

Since 2000, only five pitch­ers have hit the 3,000-strike­out mile­stone: Randy John­son, Pe­dro Martinez, Greg Mad­dux, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz. Smoltz was the last to do so. He struck out for­mer Na­tion­als player Felipe Lopez in 2008 to cross the thresh­old.

Con­trast the ex­clu­siv­ity with the 3,000 hits and 500 home run groups. Thirty play­ers have 3,000 or more hits in ma­jor-league his­tory. Twenty-seven play­ers have hit 500 or more home runs.

Reach­ing 3,000 strike­outs would con­tinue Scherzer’s win­now­ing of his­tor­i­cal com­par­isons. He has twice won the Cy Young Award, once in each league. At 32 years old, he is not slowing. In­stead he has be­come bet­ter on a sea­son-by-sea­son ba­sis, poised to an­nu­ally tus­sle with Clay­ton Ker­shaw for ti­tle of best pitcher in the Na­tional League, if not best pitcher on the planet.

Scherzer sped to 2,000 strike­outs in such fash­ion that reach­ing 3,000 could be at­tain­able. Only Martinez and John­son reached 2,000 in fewer in­nings. No one faced fewer bat­ters than Scherzer to get there. His stun­ning strike­out rate this sea­son could push

him past 300 this sea­son. He’s av­er­ag­ing 9.5 strike­outs per start, with about 21 starts re­main­ing. That puts him on pace for a stag­ger­ing 324 strike­outs this sea­son. His ca­reer to­tal would vault to 2,205 should that hap­pen. Even if Scherzer does not main­tain his bat-miss­ing pace, he is likely to creep to­ward 2,150 strike­outs by the end of this sea­son.

Then, he would be roughly 850 short of the club. That would pro­vide Scherzer a chance to pass the to­tal sooner than any­one else in ma­jor-league his­tory.

“I just know that’s a long way away,” Scherzer said. “I’ve got to be durable. Do ev­ery­thing to keep go­ing to even have a shot at that. You can get lost try­ing to think about those mile­stones. They dis­tract from what’s at hand, at times. It’s bet­ter to keep the blin­ders on and keep march­ing for­ward.”

Only eight other ac­tive play­ers have more than 2,000 strike­outs. Just ahead of Scherzer is Ker­shaw, who is three years younger, but also in his 10th sea­son. Ker­shaw sur­passed 2,000 strike­outs June 2. It took him 277 games. Scherzer did it in 287. They could well race along­side each other to­ward 3,000. CC Sa­bathia leads ac­tive pitch­ers with 2,784 strike­outs. He is 36 years old. The end of his ca­reer is close. Af­ter Sa­bathia, en­dur­ing Bar­tolo Colon sits at 2,405 strike­outs. Felix Her­nan­dez (2,286), Justin Ver­lan­der (2,266) are 31 and 34, re­spec­tively. Both have slowed.

Ker­shaw and Scherzer are dom­i­nat­ing. Ker­shaw from the left side, tar­get­ing his fast­ball, us­ing a veer­ing slider and heart-break­ing curve­ball to ram­page through the league. Scherzer from the right, with a 97 mph fast­ball, hard-turn­ing slider and enough curve­ball and changeup to cause con­fu­sion.

Ker­shaw and Scherzer have been on sim­i­lar paths since 2008. They were in the same draft class and de­buted within a month of each other. Now, they each have con­tracts worth more than $200 mil­lion, an­chor two of the Na­tional League favorites and ap­pear to have the clean­est jour­ney of any cur­rent pitch­ers to hit 3,000 strike­outs be­fore they are done.

“He just knows how to at­tack hit­ters,” Scherzer said of Ker­shaw. “He’s ag­gres­sive in the zone. He pitches off his fast­ball ex­tremely well. He lo­cates it so well. His slider — it’s so late, and so sharp. You can just see how he throws it to right-hand hit­ters and left-hand hit­ters. How he works off that glove-side fast­ball and glove-side slider. No one has a prayer on him.”

“Ev­ery­thing’s the same,” Drew said of the two. “They both hate to lose. They don’t miss their spot — rarely. When they do, they can get away with it.”

The only time two play­ers reached 3,000 strike­outs in the same sea­son was in 1980. Steve Carl­ton, a lefty, and Tom Seaver, a righty, reached the to­tal within 11 days of each other. In a six-year span from 1980-86, six pitch­ers threw their way to the mile­stone. Only six more have reached it since.

Scherzer could get there in six more sea­sons, maybe seven, maybe less. That would turn Cas­sel and Mazara into hap­pily de­moted foot­notes.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als pitcher Max Scherzer picked up his 2,000th ca­reer strike­out on Sun­day. Since 2000, only five pitch­ers have hit the 3,000-strike­out mile­stone.

Of the eight other ac­tive pitch­ers with 2,000 ca­reer strike­outs, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clay­ton Ker­shaw was the most re­cent to hit the mile­stone be­fore Max Scherzer did on Sun­day.

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