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Frustrated Scherzer will increase intensity

Frustrated Scherzer will increase intensity

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Max Scherzer has a perfectionist streak in him. When he spends part of his morning poring over the crossword puzzle in the newspaper, he can't put it down until he makes every attempt at an answer. Sometimes he'll solicit help.

His Spring Training is becoming a little bit of a puzzle itself. And it hasn't been a fun one for him to solve.

There is no such thing in that mentality as simply getting in his innings, even in the opening outings of Spring Training. When he doesn't last an inning in his first start of the spring, it doesn't help.

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"It's definitely frustrating," Scherzer said. "You never take the mound and not have things go your way and be OK with it."

For Scherzer, they haven't gone right in two outings this spring. For the Tigers, who pulled Jeremy Bonderman in the first inning Sunday, they haven't gone right since Justin Verlander started Saturday. On Monday, they went bad from the get-go.

Scherzer's issues in his Spring Training debut last Thursday dealt more with the six hits he allowed over two innings. Starting with his first pitch Monday, an inside fastball that brushed back Braves leadoff man Omar Infante, Scherzer had a battle with the strike zone. When he tried to hit the zone down at the knees, he missed down. When he had to hit the strike zone, he missed up in the middle and paid for it.

Infante ended up being the only hitter Scherzer retired out of eight batters, and it was a freakish out at that. Infante reached base when third baseman Don Kelly's errant throw sent first baseman Miguel Cabrera leaping off the bag to catch it. However, Infante turned toward second base, perhaps thinking the ball had gotten away, and Cabrera tagged him for the putout.

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A four-pitch walk to Melky Cabrera put a runner on base for Braves top prospect Jason Heyward, who battled his way out of an 0-2 hole to run the count full. Scherzer challenged him with a fastball and paid dearly with a monstrous drive well over the right-field fence. The ball bounced well up the roof of the indoor batting cages beyond right field and hit the street from there.

It counted for two runs nonetheless, but it was a massive blow.

"It was a 3-2 count," Scherzer said. "I don't want to walk him. I can turn that page. It's really the at-bats after that. I was trying to work ahead and missing low, and I couldn't make the adjustment from there."

The more he tried to solve this puzzle, the worse it became. Back-to-back singles started more trouble quickly. Scherzer gave up a four-pitch walk to Matt Diaz, loading the bases, then lost David Ross to a five-pitch walk that brought in a run. Once Brooks Conrad snuck a ground ball just inside first base for a two-run double down the right-field line, manager Jim Leyland made the trip to the mound to bring in Fu-Te Ni.

Scherzer, frustrated more with himself than anything else, slammed his glove into the dugout on his way in. The date on the calendar made no difference to him.

"We're playing a baseball game here, nine innings," Scherzer said. "Obviously I'm on a pitch count and everything, but still, it doesn't matter if it's Spring Training, a pickup game, anytime. If I'm taking the mound, trying to get hitters out, and I don't, it's frustrating."

The natural question from there is whether Scherzer feels any pressure coming to a new team after the Tigers acquired him from Arizona in December in the Edwin Jackson trade.

In some eyes, Scherzer essentially replaces Jackson in the rotation, though Jackson had more experience under his belt when the Tigers acquired him from Tampa Bay a year earlier. Scherzer just completed his first full-year in Arizona's rotation.

Scherzer is very mathematically oriented. He was a business finance major at the University of Missouri. In the end, pressure like replacing a player doesn't compute.

"I'm not trying to prove myself out there," Scherzer said. "I know that's a recipe for disaster. You've heard of other athletes trying to prove themselves in trades. That's just absolutely not my mentality.

"I'm going to pitch the way I pitch. I'm going to go out there and approach a game the same way. I'm not replacing anybody. I'm going to pitch the way I can, and live and die by the results."

Measured numerically, Scherzer has given up eight runs on 10 hits over 2 1/3 innings in his two outings this spring, walking four batters and striking out two. But those aren't the results he's talking about.

It's about pitch execution, and about refining the repertoire to go with his power fastball. He wonders if it's a matter of intensity.

"It's kind of hard in these situations to really amp yourself up," Scherzer said, "but I'm going to have to figure a way out and start approaching the game like that, because that's the way I pitch. I pitch with very high intensity, and I'm going to have to try to get that mentality in spring again.

"Basically, the next outing [Saturday at the Mets], I'm going to turn it up. I'm going to turn up the intensity and really not treat it like a Spring Training game or a practice game. I'm going to treat it like it's the real deal and go after it."

His outing Monday didn't seem to lack for intensity.

"I've got more," Scherzer said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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