DETROIT — Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer insists that the spoils will not spoil him.
"The Cy Young is an unbelievable award and an unbelievable honor," Scherzer said. "But it’s not changing my life."
However, try as an athlete might, fame does change lives. For instance, WWE wrestling guru Vince McMahon sent Scherzer and his National League counterpart in winning the Cy Young, Clayton Kershaw, a championship belt that included the usual wrestling inscriptions on the front with a photo of Scherzer, replica of the Cy Young Award and an Olde English D on the back.
"That thing is sweet," said Scherzer, smiling widely and shaking his head.
The Cy Young is an unbelievable award and an unbelievable honor, but it’s not changing my life.
His point about the impact of fame wasn’t connected to the frills that come after leading the major leagues with a 21-3 record while starting the All-Star Game and having a stellar post-season. What he was emphasizing in "not changing" was the work ethic, level-headed approach and humility that got him to the top.
Scherzer’s still punishing himself with grueling runs up Camelback Mountain, not far from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"I’ve got my time to the top down to 31 minutes!" Scherzer said. "That’s one of my favorite off-season things to do because it’s so intense."
Scherzer savors the sights of the Valley of the Sun from atop the mountain that provides a panoramic view of Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale. And make no mistake about it: Scherzer is atop the baseball world as both a talent and commodity.
He recorded his 1,000th strikeout in August and his 1,000th inning in September, and only one pitcher accumulated both as many wins (71) and strikeouts (1,075) through his first 1,000 innings as Scherzer. That was three-time Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez.
Scherzer led the American League with a 0.97 WHIP and recorded a 2.90 ERA that was fifth in the league while finishing second with 240 strikeouts. He became the first Tiger starter to begin a season 13-0, and baffled right-handed hitters (.222) while eating up left-handed hitters (.165).
While Kershaw recently signed a seven-year deal worth a record $215 million for a pitcher, Scherzer finds himself nine months away from potentially becoming a free agent and realizing similar riches. Though, he said "Detroit is where I want to play" and hopes to sign a long-term deal before opening day. If he doesn’t, Scherzer still prefers signing with the Tigers, and doesn’t figure to feel any added pressure in a season during which his statistics could mean the difference in tens of millions of dollars.
"You are pitching for money all the time," said Scherzer, who received a raise from $6.725 million to $15.525 million for this season. "In reality, I have already done that. And it’s all I can do."
Yet, he feels the challenge of lesser pitchers. He strives to improve his curveball — a virtually new pitch which made a significant difference for him against left-handed hitters last season.
Scherzer, according to PITCHf/x, went from throwing his curve 2 percent of the time in 2012 to 7.4 percent last year. And he focused on using it against lefties 11 percent of the time as opposed to only 2 percent versus righties — with usage going up as he got ahead in counts. The curve became a put-away pitch, but still trailed his fastball (57 percent), changeup (21 percent) and slider (15 percent) in the percentage of time he used it.
"I’ve worked on developing pitches," Scherzer said. "And I made strides with my curveball, but can make even more strides with it."
Doing so would make him even less predictable. That would make the pitcher it was the hardest to reach base against in the AL even tougher.
Scherzer was relieved when new manager Brad Ausmus retained pitching coach Jeff Jones.
"I was happy to see him get back," said Scherzer. "Jonesy and I — and I can speak for all the pitchers here — have such a great rapport and he’s helped me greatly."
Scherzer said his arm "feels great" and noted that he’s ahead of where he was last year at this time, when he was taking it a bit easy because of a slight deltoid strain in his right shoulder that limited him somewhat down the stretch in 2012.
He was married on Nov. 23 to his University of Missouri college sweetheart, Erica May, a softball pitcher for the Tigers. They honeymooned in New Zealand, where they could scuba dive and explore, after getting married in Scottsdale with a good number of teammates in attendance.
And so while Scherzer said winning the Cy Young didn’t change his life, his life and approach to pitching continue evolving — apparently for the better.