Saturday evening at Nationals Park, Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer made his final summer camp tune-up start prior Opening Day. It did not go well. The NL East rival Phillies pounded Scherzer for seven runs in the first two innings, including three-run home runs by Didi Gregorius and former National Bryce Harper.
"I got beat around a little bit, but that's good," Scherzer told reporters during a conference call after the game. "That's what happens in the regular season. It's not always going through lineups (with ease)."
For a veteran like Scherzer, a poor exhibition start barely registers as a blip on the radar usually. He had a 4.39 ERA last spring and a 4.15 ERA the spring before, yet he was his typically dominant self during the regular season. Scherzer knows what he has to do to prepare for the season and that's his focus. A poor stat line in exhibition play is no worry.
Of course, this was no normal exhibition start, and this is no normal season. Baseball was shut down close to four months because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and everyone (hitters, pitchers, coaches, etc.) is trying to feel their way through this restart phase. Baseball people are creatures of habit and that habit was most certainly disrupted.
Also, Scherzer and the Nationals won the World Series and made a deep postseason run last year. Scherzer started Game 7 on Oct. 30. He never pitched that late in the year. Scherzer had a shorter offseason than usual to recover, and then the shutdown threw a great big wrench into his preparation. Nothing about this is typical.
It should be noted Scherzer settled down after two rough innings to begin Saturday's exhibition game, and closed out his outing with three scoreless frames. My hunch is he will be perfectly fine. Scherzer knows what he needs to do to get game ready. I'm not worried about him. The shutdown creates a little uncertainty, but I think he'll be fine.
Scherzer, 36 later this month, threw 172 1/3 innings with a 2.92 ERA and 243 strikeouts last season. That earned him his fourth straight top-three finish (and seventh straight top five finish) in the Cy Young voting. Scherzer also had a 2.40 ERA in 30 postseason innings en route to the World Series title.
The Nationals open the 60-game regular season at home against the New York Yankees on Thursday, July 23. Scherzer will make his fifth career Opening Day start that night.