LAKELAND, Fla. -- First things first: Max Scherzer's arm is fine. Manager Jim Leyland and Scherzer both said as much. The shoulder issues that hampered him down the stretch last season, they say, are a thing of the past.
"I can tell you this: He's perfectly healthy," Leyland emphasized.
Scherzer's also happy. Nobody had to shout it, but the tone of his conversation on Tuesday morning sounded like somebody in a good place. He could even joke about the best part of his offseason being a ticket out of Cleveland rather than his own vacation in Hawaii.
"Shin-Soo Choo getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds," he said, noting Choo's 12-for-21 history against him. "I was jumping for joy when I saw he got traded. As soon as that thing went final, I was happy."
For his part, Scherzer wants to stick around in a Tigers uniform for the long term if he can, though it doesn't sound like contract talks are ongoing. He wants to build off of the midseason run last summer that vaulted him to among the best pitchers in the league before a sore shoulder limited him down the stretch. More than anything, though, he'd like to get back that feeling that allowed him to pitch so well.
That mechanical feeling, that consistency, has been the last step towards making Scherzer a front-line starter. For someone whose memory is as sharp as his mind, it has been quite a struggle. After last season, he's hoping he has found it.
"I'm really working to get that feel back for getting everything right, all the pitches," Scherzer said. "It's all the little stuff. It feels like I just pitched, so I have a lot of that feel right now."
Scherzer went into last Spring Training looking for consistency. He got chaos last year that would have challenged anybody. Professionally, he began throwing earlier last offseason looking to go into 2012 in midseason form. Instead, Scherzer had to battle his way through April, as much for his command as for his opponents.
Those struggles culminated in a loss at Yankee Stadium that saw him walk seven batters and give up seven hits over 4 2/3 innings, taxing him for 119 pitches and capping his opening month with a 1-3 record and 7.77 ERA.
From there, Scherzer watched video, followed his form and found what he needed, going 4-0 with 51 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings for May, including a 15-strikeout gem against the Pirates at Comerica Park. He seemed headed towards one of the best stretches of his career when his brother's death in mid-June put everything professional in perspective.
Personally, Scherzer was in the most trying time of his life, and baseball became a diversion for him. By season's end, he found solace in the joy his pitching brought to family members and fans, seemingly feeding off of it. It was just then that a muscular strain in his shoulder scratched him from one September start, pulled him from another and forced him to watch his workload all postseason.
Now, he wants to focus on his game, and the Tigers want to keep him healthy enough to get back to that point when he dominated hitters. It's one of the tougher challenges for a young pitcher.
Fortunately from that aspect, Scherzer's offseason felt short.
"I'm in a good spot, and I'm glad to be a part of this team and this city," Scherzer said. "Hopefully I can be even better in 2013, because that's my goal."
Part of that brevity was his contract situation.
As it turns out, the Tigers didn't really go to the 11th hour with Scherzer to avoid an arbitration hearing. Scherzer said his arbitration hearing was scheduled for Feb. 19, the next-to-last day of the arbitration period. He reached an agreement with the Tigers on a one-year, $6.725 million contract -- midway between the respective arbitration offers -- about two weeks ahead of a hearing.
The fact that they settled was long expected, though it looked unlikely at one point. The fact that they brought up the possibility of a long-term contract, on the other hand, was a big surprise.
"We talked about it," Scherzer said Tuesday morning, "but we were more focused on just getting one year done. We wanted to hammer that out first before we even thought about doing anything [long term]."
Scherzer has two seasons left, including this one, before he becomes eligible for free agency. Agent Scott Boras' usual preference is to have his clients test free agency and use the market to maximize their value. It usually takes quite a deal to get away from that, though Boras clients have signed long term in some cases. Jered Weaver is a recent example.
Scherzer would welcome being the next.
"My preference is I love Detroit. I love the city. I love being part of this organization," Scherzer said. "I love being part of this organization because of the winning atmosphere that comes from the owner that goes down to the GM, that goes down to management, that goes down to everybody. Not every organization has that, and to be part of an organization that's all about winning, it's something you want to be a part of.
"And so, if they would want to include me in their long-term plans, I want to be a part of it because of the atmosphere and culture here in Detroit."
He's healthy, and he's happy. He's hoping to stay that way.