Scherzer has right stuff -- the swing-and-miss kind
By Jason Beck
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer isn't unbeaten, unlike this point last year. He is, however, an All-Star again. And as he heads into the break this time around, he's looking as tough to beat as he was last summer.
On a day the Tigers took the field without Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez in their starting lineup, they still beat the Dodgers in large part thanks to Scherzer. With seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball Wednesday afternoon, he not only outpitched fellow All-Star Zack Greinke, he pitched stingy enough to let Detroit's getaway-day offense easily support him.
He closed his first half with four consecutive starts allowing two runs or fewer, but his dominance since giving up 10 runs to the Royals on June 17 goes beyond the scoreboard. In four starts since, he allowed five runs on 19 hits over 28 innings, walking six and striking out 35.
SCHERZER'S LAST FOUR OUTINGS
Swings and misses
He has the pitches to win, including a nasty slider that sent Dodgers hitters swinging and missing with regularity. Just as important to him, though, he's looking hard to beat because he's not pitching like he's afraid to lose.
"I am throwing the ball well right now, and I feel like I'm in midseason form, being able to command all my pitches," Scherzer said. "But the biggest thing is just being on a relentless attack, always attacking the strike zone. Even when I get into the 0-2, 1-2 counts that I strive to be in, I'm more aggressive right now going at the hitter. I'm not trying to throw breaking pitches just off the plate or throw a fastball up just for show. I feel like I'm doing a much better job of being aggressive at the hitter and forcing their hand in those situations.
"When I do that, and make them swing the bat in those situations, that's typically when I have my most success. That's something I made a little tweak in my mindset a couple starts ago, and I'm really seeing a difference."
His swing-and-miss rate is just about the same over his last four starts as it was over his previous 15 this year, according to baseball-reference.com. His overall strike percentage, however, is higher. On Wednesday, he went to three-ball counts against the first two hitters, then just four over the next 24. Two ended in walks, the other two being strikeouts.
He fanned seven of the final 22 batters he faced, all on fastball or sliders. The biggest came from the middle of the Dodgers lineup in the sixth inning following Yasier Puig's leadoff double. He nearly lost Hanley Ramirez with a 3-1 count, including a changeup that catcher Alex Avila had to pounce on to block, but spotted a slider to get back to full.
From there, he sent down Ramirez swinging at a 94-mph fastball.
"That was a huge at-bat," Scherzer said. "[Avila] was able to keep Puig from going to the next base, and then on 3-1, he made a great call of going to the slider. I was thinking fastball. And the way Hanley took it, you could tell he was uncomfortable with that pitch. I knew I kind of had him sitting in between speeds at that point. I thought if I came with my best fastball at that point, I could generate an out."
He fell behind on Adrian Gonzalez before inducing a groundout, but Puig moved to third. With a 3-1 lead, he had to weigh the value of no damage with the risk of a potential game-tying homer to Matt Kemp.
Scherzer threw four sliders to Kemp, who took one and missed on the other three.
"Other than the fastball, really, the slider was the key pitch," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He got a lot of swings and misses, a lot of bad swings, on his slider, which tells me that the rotation was tight and/or it was in a good location. They had a number of right-handed hitters that the slider was very valuable against."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.