Scherzer’s bat a boon for Nats
Earlier this month, Max Scherzer walked past an eight-piece 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 on the field that day; none of the Washington 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 to not 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 batting practice for the first time.
The impact was evident, if overlooked; Scherzer batted .161 in 72 plate appearances, the lowest batting average he’s ever posted over a full season in the National League. He slugged his first career home run on 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 National League 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 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 Arizona Diamondbacks last Friday, he went 2 for 3 with an RBI ground-rule double to raise his batting average to .292.
Only Arizona’s Patrick Corbin, who is batting .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.
Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long said Scherzer hits every day and constantly asks questions, diligently searching for a nugget of information that could make the difference.
“We’re a really a strong lineup one through eight — one through nine when Max is in there,” Bryce Harper noted.