Tigers’ Scherzer emerges among AL’s best

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.”