He’ll pitch when he’s blue in the face

2019-06-20 MaxScherzer

Eat right, exercise, and you, too, can throw shutout innings through a black eye and a face left swollen from a bunt richochet . . .

The following shutout was brought to you in living colour on Max TV. There really is someone who’ll pitch until and when he’s blue in the face.

A bunting accident during Tuesday batting practise left the Nationals’ righthander looking as though he’d been foolish enough to throw the old Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In catch phrase “Sock it to me!” at an inebriated hit man on a stool at the local tavern.

The ball Scherzer bunted ricocheted hard into his otherwise playful looking face, the face that looks like he’ll bust you on the corner one moment but have trouble holding back his snickering when the mouse he slipped into your pocket crawls into your uniform jersey and up your stomach and chest and around your neck.

I didn’t just pull that out of the floppy clown hat I don’t own. Hall of Famer Warren Spahn used to pull gags like that on his teammates during his pitching days. Spahn and his running mate Lew Burdette might also hire limousines to bring to the ballpark opposing hitters against whom they were having particular success of late. (Speculation has it that Joe Gariagiola may have cost the two a small fortune at one time.)

Wearing his flag-blue Nationals home alternate merely accented Scherzer’s battered appearance. That normally playful face is accented going in by individual eye colour, one blue and one brown. After the errant practice bunt smashed into him, leaving him a shiner that surrounded his right eye and left the upper right side of his face to look like someone planted a baseball into it, the wags said he’d be the first pitcher to take the mound with three eye colours.

“Trust me,” said Scherzer after Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Phillies, “this thing looks a lot worse than it actually is.”

By the time Scherzer and his mates finished what they’d started, a doubleheader sweep—winning the first game 6-2, before Scherzer’s handiwork fed a 2-0 nightcap win—the only ones looking like they’d taken a punch in the phiz were the Phillies themselves. Why, even the Nats’ infamously rickety bullpen didn’t lay Scherzer’s four-hit, ten-punchout jewel to waste, after all.

They’d better not have. Scherzer worked with deadly efficiency, getting twenty first pitch strikes, fourteen called strikes, 24 swinging strikes, and threw strikes 66 percent of the time Wednesday night. Between Scherzer, Wander Suero, and Sean Doolittle, the Nats kept the Phillies hitless five times with men on second or better, and the worst knock Scherzer had to shake off was a leadoff double to Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez in the top of the seventh.

“I felt zero pain,” Scherzer said after the Nats banked the nightcap. “There’s been plenty of other injuries where I felt a lot of pain and I’ve had to pitch through. I’ll hang my hat on those starts, but tonight I felt zero pain. This is part of what you have to do. You take the ball every fifth time. That’s my responsibility to the team, to make sure I always post, and I knew I could post tonight.”

Scherzer probably wasn’t that worried when Hernandez rammed that double. Striking out the side to follow immediately was proof enough, but this season Scherzer is one of the few pitchers who’s more effective when he begins to see a lineup the third time than when he sees it the first time.

The first time around this year, opposing teams so far have a .700 OPS against him despite his 15/1 strikeout-to-walk rate that first go-round. The third—.584 OPS. And he’s also one of the few pitchers who gets deadlier after he passes 100 pitches. Scherzer threw 117 pitches Wednesday night. Opposing batters already hit a measly .222 against him when he’s between pitches 76-100; after 100, they only hit .143.

He’s doing far better in those regards this season than he’s done for his entire stellar career to date: lifetime, the OPS against him when he faces a lineup the third time around is 51 points higher (.669) than when he faces it the first time around (.618); and, also lifetime, the other guys hit .242 against him between pitches 76-100 and .187 after pitch 100.

Philadelphia’s Jake Arrieta was the guy you felt a little sorry for against Scherzer. He wasn’t a Scherzer-like strikeout machine and he’s never really been that kind of strikeout machine, but he worked six solid innings blemished only by the full-count bomb Brian Dozier sent over the left field fence with two out in the bottom of the second.

“Going out there and throwing,” Scherzer went on to say, “the only thing I had to deal with was the swelling underneath the eye. It was kind of jiggling around, and so in warm-ups I just had to get used to knowing what it was feeling like to throw the ball and just have that swelling.”

Far as Arrieta was concerned, Scherzer could have taken the mound with his head re-attached by neck bolts and still proven a tough customer. “We have ran into him a couple of times. That’s just what he does,” the Phillies righthander said. “He is tough to square up, and he is throwing three or four pitches for strikes with electric stuff. Just a tough one.”

Phillies reliever Pat Neshek had the honour of surrendering a 1-0 bomb to Victor Robles in the bottom of the eighth. And he became the guy you really felt sorry for. Less than a week after returning from three weeks on the injured list with a shoulder strain, Neshek strained his left hamstring a couple of batters after Robles teed off and looks to be returning to the IL.

Legs are as important to pitching as arms. Faces? Well, Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once said all you had to do in this racket was hit the ball and he’d never seen anyone hit one with his face.

Scherzer, who inadvertently hit one with his face in a batting practice round, can say he’s got the proof that, in the pitching racket, all you have to do is throw the ball, and he’s never seen anyone throw one with his face.

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