DETROIT — It wasn’t like we’d never seen Max Scherzer give up 10 runs before.
When Scherzer first gave up 10 runs in a game to the Minnesota Twins on May 3, 2010, he was 12 days away from being optioned to Triple-A Toledo. That, however, was the beginning of a turnaround that culminated with him winning the 2013 Cy Young Award for the Detroit Tigers.
Scherzer was a young fire-baller in search of secondary pitches and command back then. While the talent was obvious, the refinement had not yet come. So, getting blasted by the formidable Twins four years ago wasn’t a shocker.
Giving up a 10-spot to the Kansas City Royals in Tuesday night’s 11-4 loss was a different story. It was basically inconceivable that Scherzer could look so flawed after pitching the first complete game shutout of his career in his last outing.
But baseball’s an unpredictable game, and what’s happening to Justin Verlander and Scherzer is a perfect example of that. Verlander has a 7.83 ERA in his last seven starts, and Scherzer has a 7.09 in his last six starts.
There were even symptoms of it in the last game that got covered up.
Scherzer had his overall earned run average go from a pretty sharp 3.05 to a pretty average 3.84 in four short innings pitched on Tuesday night. His record dropped to 8-3. Those are fine numbers for everyone but Scherzer, who was 21-3 with a 2.90 last year.
Nobody expected him to live up to those standards, and his season has in no way been a disappointment.
But now, guess what?
Scherzer has allowed at least four runs in five of his last six starts. His 1.83 ERA before those starts has more than doubled.
And while it might seem surprising to us that Scherzer had the worst game of his career after that shutout, he insisted he could see it coming.
"There were even symptoms of it in the last game that got covered up," said Scherzer.
He said that mistakes against the Chicago White Sox got obscured by line drives getting caught and the breaks going his way.
So, what’s been the problem?
"I’m not putting hitters away in two-strike counts," said Scherzer, "and that’s the difference right now."
The two most irritating at-bats for Scherzer were those of Salvardor Perez, who Scherzer got ahead of with a 0-2 count before walking him. And then Scherzer got up 1-2 on the next batter, Mike Moustakas, before hanging him a full-count changeup that became a two-run homer pulled deep and high.
"That drove me crazy," Scherzer said of the Perez walk. "I’m ready to collect an out, and I throw four straight balls."
Moustakas had only three hits in 26 previous at-bats against Scherzer for a .115 batting average with no homers. He was hitting .174 against everyone this season, and Scherzer had him on the ropes. But instead of knocking him out, he served up a cupcake.
"I got into a 3-2 count with him instead of putting him away," Scherzer said. "That’s the frustrating part."
Alex Gordon, batting two hitters before Moustakas, got the big inning rolling with a two-run homer.
"They’ve done a nice job of hitting mistakes," Ausmus said. "It was just missed location — balls up in the zone."
Scherzer was asked what adjustments he must make to put away hitters down in the count.
"They are minor, really, in the grand scheme of things," he said. "It’s more getting a feel for my off-speed pitches and the mentality of putting people away."
Scherzer said that when he tried to get hitters to swing and miss at breaking balls just out of the strike zone, he missed by too much to tempt them. He said he simply could not locate his fastball enough.
And so instead of debating whether Scherzer or Verlander is the staff ace, it’s beginning to look like Anibal Sanchez (3-2, 2.44 ERA) just might be that guy.
Verlander (6-7, 4.98) has fallen out of the conversation until further notice.
I asked Ausmus whether poor pitching can be as infections as great pitching, which was often stated as the case when Detroit was 27-12 and the rotation was the toast of baseball.
"I hope not," Ausmus said. "But it kind of looks like that right now…You just don’t lose it overnight. I really do expect them to return to form. It’s just been a little slow."
Scherzer said he’s looking forward to working on the challenge of improvement over the next four days.
"I’m just not executing as well," he said. "It’s about throwing the out-pitch and getting the out."
And he says it isn’t about the hitters coming at him harder as the Cy Young winner.
"I still have all the stuff to be as good a pitcher as I was last year," Scherzer said.
It’s about executing pitches instead of getting executed, in a baseball sense.