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Monday, June 17, 2013
Scherzer has turned into another Detroit ace

By David Schoenfield


I still like pitcher wins, warts and blemishes and gaping scars and all. Are pitcher wins perfect? Of course not. Should they be the first recourse in evaluating a pitcher's performance? Of course not. Should they be discarded into the trash bin of ill-advised statistics, like the game-winning RBI? Of course not.

So I think it's pretty cool that Max Scherzer is now 10-0, the first pitcher to win his first 10 decisions to begin a season since Roger Clemens started 11-0 for the Blue Jays in 1997. Does it take some good luck and run support to go 10-0? Sure it does; only 12 pitchers before Scherzer since 1916 have started 10-0 or better (Clemens did it twice, also going 14-0 in 1986), so it takes good pitching and good fortune, and Scherzer has certainly done the former and received the latter.

Monday's performance was a little of both, as Scherzer handcuffed the high-scoring Orioles other than a Chris Davis home run in the Tigers' 5-1 victory. But he ran up his pitch count and made it through just six innings, needing the bullpen to hold on, which it did; or rather, Drew Smyly did, retiring the final nine batters. So Scherzer improved to 10-0 with a 3.08 ERA, racking up 10 more strikeouts to move into second in the majors behind Yu Darvish with 116. Only Darvish has allowed a lower opponents' batting average.

Scherzer isn't the only pitcher on a historic run of wins. Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin also started Monday night with a chance to improve to 10-0 and Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, currently sidelined with a neck injury, is also 9-0. Corbin ended up getting a no-decision, despite allowing just two hits over eight innings against the Marlins. With the score 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth, and Arizona relievers warming up in the bullpen, Diamondbacks fans groaned loudly when Didi Gregorius grounded out sharply with two runners on to end the inning, meaning Corbin wouldn't get the win. They certainly cared about seeing their guy go 10-0.

Scherzer has always flashed the ability to become one of the game's dominant starters, with his electric stuff and ability to throw strikes, but at this point last year he was 5-4 with a 5.76 ERA, having allowed 83 hits and 13 home runs in 70.1 innings, and everyone was wondering what was going wrong. He was striking batters out, but hits kept falling in (he had a .383 average on balls in play) and opponents were hitting .366 with runners on base.

In baseball, a turnaround can come out of nowhere. One year ago, on June 17, Scherzer pitched eight shutout innings against the Rockies, striking out 12. He sat through a 53-minute rain delay in the fourth inning but wasn't about to leave the game. "This was extremely important for me," Scherzer said afterward. "It was especially big to go eight, because we've got a lot of tired arms in our bullpen."

Since then, he’s locked in his release point, leading to more consistent mechanics and command, as well as mixing in a curveball he throws about eight to 10 times a game with his fastball, slider and changeup. He was also able to remain focused -- on the mound, at least -- after the death of his brother, who committed suicide three days after the win against Colorado.

From that start to the end of the season, Scherzer went 11-3 with a 2.53 ERA, cutting his home runs to 10 in 117.1 innings and doing a better job pitching out of jams. Over a calendar year he has gone 21-3 in 33 starts with a 2.78 ERA and 259 strikeouts in 213.1 innings. Justin Verlander is still the ace of the Tigers, but Scherzer has turned into ace 1A.

If there's a scary thing about Scherzer -- at least for Tigers opponents -- it's that there's still room for him to get better. He has held batters to a .162 average with the bases empty, but that jumps to .255 with runners on base. That figure has improved from last year.

So, yes, go ahead and ignore Scherzer's 10-0 record if you wish. I'm going to keep watching until he loses. And when he finally does -- and he will -- I'll still watch because this guy has become one of the game's best.