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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Scherzer kicks it into gear after kicking himself into shape

DETROIT — One inning into the first start in his reign as the defending American League Cy Young winner, and Max Scherzer was kicking himself.

OK, well kicking something.

And not (butt).

So he went up the tunnel into the clubhouse, and made some changes, taking off his long-sleeved shirt, and putting on a short one.

“Felt good to take them off. It was warm enough for me to take them off,” he said. “The bigger thing was that I brought more intensity. I wasn’t firing at 100 percent, mentality-wise. I came up here, had to kick a few things to get going.

“Literally. I kicked the laundry basket. I had to get myself mentally going, fired up, bringing the intensity, and start throwing Strike One. Because I know that’s my game plan. Come right at you. I know they’re great hitters over there, and I really respect what they do offensively. I needed to be aggressive and go right back at them. Fortunately I was able to do that.”

After that shaky first inning, in which he’d only escaped damage in large part because Royals DH Billy Butler helped him out by hitting into a double play, Scherzer settled in, pitching seven more strong innings. He finished with seven strikeouts, five of them coming in the second trip through the Royals’ order.

As much as the self butt-kicking, it was the double play that had redeemed Scherzer’s day.

Butler, who’d only grounded into two double plays in 168 previous plate appearances with a 3-0 count in his career (and walked 138 times), swung at Scherzer’s 3-0 fastball, and rolled one weakly to shortstop.

“I thought he was swinging there 3-0. I knew it was an early part of the game. I was throwing a fastball. He knew I was throwing a fastball, so I thought there was a chance he was swinging. So I knew we needed to get it away,” Scherzer said. “Fortunately enough, he was able to roll it over. That was a huge play. I was kind of on the ropes there.”

He wouldn’t be on the ropes again until the eighth, when he gave up a leadoff double to Salvador Perez. He struck out Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain before manager Brad Ausmus came out to visit the mound, with his starter sitting on 107 pitches.

“First time I ever met Max, for lunch, he told me he’d be honest with me, with how he was feeling. I was at a point where he could face the next hitter, or we could go to the bullpen,” Ausmus said.

“I asked him how he felt, and reminded him that he was going to be honest with me, and he gave me a response that I liked, that he wanted to stay in, and in a manner that made it seem like he wanted to stay in, so he really made the decision for me.”

What words did Scherzer use?

“I told him, ‘I’m tired.’ I was. ... He says, ‘Make a decision.’ I said, ‘Give me a second to think about it,’” Scherzer recalled. “I needed to be honest with Brad. I said, ‘Give me the ball.’”

He got Alcides Escobar to fly out to right field, ending the threat.

Scherzer ended up with a no-decision when Joe Nathan blew the save in the ninth inning.


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