Ex-Tiger Scherzer ‘can’t wait’ to face former teammates

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer said it'll be fun and exciting to pitch against several of his former Tiger teammates on Wednesday.

Washington, D.C. — It’s been roughly 17 months since Max Scherzer left the Detroit Tigers and signed with the Nationals.

All that time, all the success he’s had since he’s left — including the no-hitters — hasn’t dampened his exuberance for facing his former teammates for the first time.

That’s finally going to happen on Wednesday.

“I’m kind of feeling it today,” Scherzer said before Tuesday’s game. “You’re so excited to be able to get a start like this. But I know when you are on the mound and you get into these situations, you have to calm down. You can’t try to throw your best fastball in the first inning.

“I’m going out there for 100-plus pitches and try to keep them from scoring as many runs as possible and to win the game.”

His eyes lit up when he asked about facing Miguel Cabrera.

“Love it,” he said. “I love it. I am facing the best hitter tomorrow. He is the best hitter on earth and he knows so much. This is what you dream of. You dream of facing the best and I want to face the best. This is who you measure yourself against. You don’t measure yourself against the nine-hole hitter.

“You measure yourself against Miguel Cabrera. If you go out and have success against him, that’s a notch in your belt. But I know it’s a daunting challenge to try and do that. I need to be on my A-game to have any kind of success against him. But that’s what makes it fun.”

Neither Scherzer nor Cabrera have been on their A-games this season — at least not compared to those MVP and Cy Young Award seasons they shared in Detroit in 2013 and '14.

Cabrera, who banged his right knee sliding into second base Monday, was given the night off Tuesday but is expected to play Wednesday. And Scherzer is coming off a loss against the Cubs where he allowed seven runs and four home runs in five innings.

Scherzer’s ERA is an uncharacteristic 4.60. He’s allowed 36 home runs in his last 40 starts.

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“There were a few things I’ve reflected on and talked over with (pitching coach) Mike Maddox,” he said. “I am trying to come up with different ways I can pitch. Look for different things in different situations. I thought I was a little too predictable the last time out.

“I am trying to find a way to counteract that.”

Certainly he has a deep knowledge of most of the Tigers hitters — Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler. But he dismisses that as an advantage.

“They know my intricacies as well,” he said. “It’s like a double negative. You just throw everything out the window and compete.”

As fate would have it, Scherzer will be dueling former teammate Jordan Zimmermann. This will be Zimmermann’s first outing against the Nationals, for whom he pitched for from 2009-15.

“I talked to him (Monday),” Zimmermann said. “We joked around a little bit. He said, ‘Looks like we’ll be locking horns.’ And I said, ‘I can’t wait.’ It’s going to be fun.”

Adrenalin levels are likely to be off the charts for both pitchers in the first inning tomorrow.

“I am sure I’ll be amped up,” said Zimmermann, who is the winningest pitcher in Nationals’ history with 70 victories. “I will have to calm down and try to just pitch my game. ... There’s a handful of guys over there I am still friends with and we text each other throughout the year. But this is a business trip now. I am going to get after them.”

Scherzer and Zimmermann — both intense students of pitching — fed off each other last season.

“Just all the little things that happen in a game, the different situations and how he would use his stuff a certain way to certain hitters,” Scherzer said. “I’d see that and say, ‘Hey, they works. I like the way you pitched with the fastball there, you used the slider in that situation.’

“You try to find situations where you can use that. You put those data points in your head.”

Scherzer had a feeling the Tigers were interested in signing Zimmermann last winter.

“Yeah, I knew something was up when during the offseason when we all went to Austin Jackson’s wedding,” Scherzer said. “Alex Avila kept asking me, ‘What do you guys think of Jordy?’ He kept asking questions about Zimm and I kind of put two and two together. They want Zimm.

“I remember telling them he was a guy that just wants the ball every five days and he competes. There aren’t many guys who compete as hard as he does.”

This day has been a year and a half in the making, and should be worth the wait.

“I’m sure they’re excited to face me and I’m excited to face them,” Scherzer said. “At this level, when you are facing friends it just makes it fun. I have a lot of respect for all the guys over there, how they play the game. They are all professional and compete the right way. It’s going to be fun.”

Twitter: @cmccosky