LAKELAND, FLA. — Although many things in Max Scherzer’s life have changed, one thing remains the same.
"When I’m down here at spring training, this is baseball. I play the game to win," Scherzer said on the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers. "It’s as simple as that. That’s my No. 1 goal when I come here is to start preparing to win."
Scherzer gave that answer when asked about his impending free agency and the expected windfall that will accompany that for a Cy Young winner.
As an arbitration-eligible player, Scherzer, 29, already got a nice raise from the $6.725 million he earned last year. He’ll make $15.525 million in 2014.
But with top agent Scott Boras as his representative, Scherzer is in line for a much bigger raise than that.
Scherzer declined to say whether there have been any negotiations on a long-term deal thus far but he reiterated that he does have a deadline.
"If it’s not done by Opening Day, then I’m not going to negotiate during the season," Scherzer said. "This can be a major distraction and I understand I have a chance to secure my future here with the team and I want that to happen, but at the same time I’m not gonna drag negotiations out into the season. It’s unfair to the team, unfair to me and my teammates. They don’t need to have that type of thought process going on. For me, I’m here to win and hopefully we can get something done."
Scherzer also repeated that he does want to stay in Detroit.
"The reality is you can never dictate whether these things happen or don’t," Scherzer said. "If it does, great. If not, hopefully we’ll resolve it in November. For me, now that I’m here in spring training, my focus is all about getting on the field and trying to win."
As for the changes in Scherzer’s life, he married longtime girlfriend and fellow Missouri alum Erica May in November and won the AL Cy Young Award.
"It’s been great," Scherzer said. "It’s one heck of an offseason. I was definitely busy. It felt very short."
Scherzer is also welcoming a new manager, Brad Ausmus, after having Jim Leyland as his manager the last four years.
"It’s different. Obviously we miss Skip," Scherzer said. "He was such a great manager and what he did for this club is something that everybody appreciated. It’s also fun to have Brad here as well. He seems to be a great mind and is doing things just a tad differently but mostly the same stuff.
"I think Brad’s gonna pick up where he left off, add some stuff and make us even better."
Ausmus said he never faced Scherzer as a player but remembered seeing him pitch early in his career with Arizona.
"It might have been his debut with Arizona, it was against LA, I believe," Ausmus said. "And I was in the dugout and he struck out seven out of nine guys or something like that."
One of the things Ausmus has changed is adding a drill he learned in San Diego.
"(Friday) we had one of those stations where Omar Vizquel was hitting with these soft balls, baseball-size but soft balls," Scherzer said. "Just absolutely hitting lasers at us. We’ve never had that in the past. We had Omar about 20 feet away just smoking balls right at us. It’s something we’ve never done before but I liked that we did it."
Ausmus said Vizquel was actually 50-60 feet away.
"They call it rag ball where the balls that are used in it are Incrediballs, they’re soft," Ausmus said. "It’s basically just for the pitchers to react to balls being hit right back at them without the risk of being hit in the face with a baseball. It can be tough."
And the other main difference between Leyland and Ausmus? The no smoking in the clubhouse rule.
"That’s a new rule," Scherzer said with a laugh. "I’d never heard that one in all my times I’ve been here because we’ve had a very smoking policy so it’s been very encouraged around here. So it’s different to have it discouraged."
All kidding aside, no matter what happens with Scherzer’s contract, he said he and his teammates have unfinished business.
"Obviously you want to win the whole thing," Scherzer said. "When you get that close, you realize you’re so close to being able to win the whole thing, a play here, a play there, that’s the difference in a series. That just gives you the motivation to work as hard as you can during the regular season just to have another shot at that. It takes a little luck, it takes some good luck as well. Hopefully we can get it this year."