DETROIT (AP) — After all the questions about his remarkable unbeaten streak — and his own attempts to downplay it — Max Scherzer could finally reflect a bit on the type of run most players will never experience.
Sure, wins and losses aren’t always the best way to judge a pitcher, but Scherzer was sure to savor those 13 straight victories to start the season.
“It was fun. I mean, are you kidding me? Being undefeated, that means your team is winning,” Scherzer said. “To me, it wasn’t a personal achievement, it was a team achievement, a reflection of my record. For me, that was fun.”
Scherzer finally lost Saturday night, in his final start before the All-Star break, but that rough outing did little to detract from what the Detroit right-hander has accomplished over the last year. On a staff that includes former MVP Justin Verlander, Scherzer has earned a lot of the attention lately. At 28, he’s in the prime of his career, and whether he starts Tuesday’s All-Star game or not, he’s a big reason why the Tigers are in first place in the AL Central.
“I’m doing everything I said I wanted to do,” he said. “I’m pitching deeper into games. I’m minimizing my walks. I’m generating strikeouts at a high rate. … I’m doing a lot of things right. Hopefully, I’m able to carry that into the second half.”
Scherzer had pitched just one full season in the majors when the Tigers acquired him from Arizona before the 2010 season, part of a three-team deal that sent Curtis Granderson from Detroit to the New York Yankees. A former first-round draft pick, Scherzer was inconsistent at first in the Motor City, but since the All-Star break in 2012, he is 21-3 with a 2.99 ERA in 34 starts.
His 13-1 mark this year helped him emerge as perhaps the favorite to start the All-Star game at Citi Field in New York — although the fact that he pitched Saturday may limit his availability.
“It would mean a lot,” Scherzer said. “I just know how many great pitchers there are in the game — the other pitchers who are on top of their game right now, and how well they’re pitching. So, if I get the nod over those guys, I mean, that’s a real nice moment.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland — who is picking the All-Star starter since he’s managing the American League — traces some of Scherzer’s growth to the 6-foot-3 right-hander’s first season with Detroit. He was sent to the minors for a couple weeks in May 2010 after a poor start to the season. Scherzer returned around the end of that month and posted a 2.46 ERA the rest of the way.
“It’s not punishment when people are sent down,” Leyland said. “I think the best part of the message is, when you get sent down, if you go down there with the right attitude and agenda and a purpose, sometimes it can work out pretty good for you.”
Although Scherzer was sharp for the rest of 2010 and won 15 games the following year, there was still a sense that he was capable of more. His next big step came down the stretch last season.
Scherzer is a believer in some of baseball’s advanced metrics that have started working their way into the mainstream — and his 2012 season was a good example of how traditional numbers don’t always tell the whole story. At the end of May, he had a 5.55 ERA, but his strikeout rate was strong. He was allowing a .395 average on balls in play — a number likely to decrease if his luck would improve.
He looked like a second-half breakout candidate, and sure enough, by the end of the year, Scherzer’s ERA was down to 3.74. He finished second in the majors in strikeouts behind Verlander and helped the Tigers win the division and AL pennant.
“Everybody asks me about the sabermetrics. They work over the long term. They work at determining what generates success. Obviously, it’s generating swing-and-misses, minimizing walks and finding a way to keep the ball on the ground,” Scherzer said. “But at the end of the day, none of that plays when you go out on the mound. It’s all about the scouting reports and pitch execution.”
Scherzer has pitched amid personal tragedy. He has not said much publicly about the death of his brother last season, but it has obviously been a difficult time for his family.
Scherzer is known around the clubhouse for his smart, outgoing personality — and his willingness to engage teammates in good-natured debate about pretty much any sport he can think of.
“He’s the president of all pools. The March Madness, NBA Finals, the golf, Kentucky Derby — any kind of Derby, anything,” outfielder Torii Hunter said. “Hot dog-eating contest. I mean, he has a bracket for everything, and it’s perfect.
“Scherzer is definitely one of the smart guys in the clubhouse who can run things, but he’s a lot of fun. He’s funny, he’s always keeping the guys interacting.”
Scherzer’s focus on process helped keep him grounded as his undefeated streak grew. He was 13-0 before Saturday’s loss to Texas, but run support plays a significant role in that, and he was careful not to make too much of his sparkling win-loss record.
“People love ‘counting numbers,’” Scherzer said. “A lot of people don’t try to give credit when you don’t have ‘counting numbers’ — it is what it is.”
Although Scherzer’s record has stood out, it’s far from the only reason he made the All-Star team for the first time.
That honor was years in the making.
“That’s going to be a blast, especially as my first one,” he said. “You always worked hard to put yourself in a position to be there, and finally it’s happened for me. I can’t wait to go.”