Breaking down Max Scherzer’s return to the Mets’ rotation and what it means moving forward – The Denver Post


Six innings, two hits, no runs, 11 strikeouts.

Max Scherzer silenced everyone who was worried about how he’d fare in his first big-league game since May 18. The Hall of Famer didn’t get a win as the Mets’ bullpen and hitters let him down, but the message coming from Scherzer’s right arm and now fully-healed left oblique was clear.

He’s back and ready to make hitters look silly again.

His victims on Tuesday night were the Cincinnati Reds, a last place team with the National League’s 14th-ranked offense. But the Cincinnati lineup on Tuesday still featured some seasoned professionals, including veterans Mike Moustakas, Tommy Pham and Tyler Naquin, as well as Jonathan India, last year’s NL Rookie of the Year. Those four combined to go 1-for-9 against Scherzer with five strikeouts.

All told, things could hardly have been better on an individual level. Scherzer turned in arguably his best start as a Met, racking up his first game with at least 11 strikeouts and zero walks since joining the club.

“Felt great, no issues whatsoever today,” Scherzer assessed afterward. “I felt strong all the way through. I was able to locate the fastball, but most importantly, I felt like I had a really good slider. In my rehab starts, it wasn’t breaking the right way. I knew I was going to need it against this team. I was able to execute that. That pitch really helped me navigate their lineup.”

According to FanGraphs, the Reds have produced nearly 19 runs below average this season on sliders. Scherzer and the Mets clearly had that information at their disposal heading into this start, and it resulted in Scherzer using 23 of his 79 total pitches (29%) on the slider. On the season, Scherzer is throwing the slider 23% of the time, getting a swing and miss on 48.4% of them. On Tuesday, the Reds swung at a slider nine times and came up empty on seven, good for a 78% whiff percentage that didn’t look like it was coming from a guy who just missed two months.

The heavy reliance on the slider is both a testament to the Mets’ coaching staff and Scherzer’s deep reservoir of pitching know-how. His slider has been his best pitch for virtually his entire career, the one that made him much more than just a hard thrower with a fiery demeanor. Even when he’s not facing the bleeding Reds, though, Scherzer would be wise to keep trusting the slider as much as he did in Cincy.

An interesting facet of Scherzer’s game is that he hardly ever throws the slider to lefties. In 2021, Statcast identified 542 of Scherzer’s total pitches as sliders. Only ten of those were thrown to left-handed hitters. Against the Reds on Tuesday, he didn’t throw a single one to anybody in the left batter’s box. The reason for this, explained as simply as possible, is because Scherzer is right-handed, meaning his slider breaks into left-handed hitters. Historically, his preferred secondary pitch to southpaws is a changeup, which breaks away from them. The Reds’ left-handed hitters (Moustakas, Naquin and rookie catcher Michael Papierski) did not put a single one of Scherzer’s changeups in play.

If there’s any noticeable difference in Scherzer’s approach during his first nine starts for the Mets, it’s that he’s utilizing a cutter more often against lefties, which breaks in like the slider but with more velocity and a slightly different shape. That pitch got him out of one of the only spots of trouble he fell into on Tuesday, as he had a runner on base in the fourth inning with Moustakas at the plate. Scherzer snapped off a 1-2 cutter at Moustakas’ back foot to get a strikeout, something that indicated that the 37-year-old certainly didn’t need any more time with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.

In 2021 while pitching for the Nationals and Dodgers, the cutter showed up on 17.6% of Scherzer’s pitches to left-handers. That number has leapt to 21.6% this year, perhaps a direct influence of working with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner for the first time. For his career, lefties have fared much better against Scherzer (.242/.310/.406 slash line) than their right-handed counterparts (.196/.242/.328). Busting out an altered pitch usage strategy in year 15 is both a fun, effective wrinkle and a sign that Scherzer is constantly looking for ways to become even more diabolical.

The other most encouraging sign from Scherzer’s grand return was the fastball velocity. He sat in the mid and upper 90s for all six innings and even got away with leaving some of them right over the fat part of the plate without any damage. That might not work against, say, the Braves or Phillies’ lineups, but with a pitcher of Scherzer’s ilk, he’ll likely have some new tricks up his sleeve for those teams.

In other words, while there are a few things around this team that are causing simmering concern, Max Scherzer is, undoubtedly, not one of them.



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