26-year old right-hander Max Scherzer will take the mound tonight at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Scherzer is bidding to become the first Tigers pitcher since Vern Kennedy in 1938 to have a 7-0 record before June. Records may sometimes be misleading, but in seven of his nine starts, Scherzer has allowed two runs or less. He has a better strikeout ratio (8.3 K/9) than Josh Beckett, Dan Haren, CC Sabathia David Price and Chris Carpenter. Scherzer has still yet to allow an extra-base to a cleanup hitter all year.
Scherzer possesses an incredible trio of pitches. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, but Scherzer keeps hitters off-balance with a disappearing changeup and back-breaking slider.
“His stuff at times,” one scout told ESPN’s Jayson Stark, “is the equal of [Justin] Verlander’s.”
While his stuff can be the equivalent of fellow teammate Verlander, Scherzer did not always know how to use it. Scherzer was so bad in his first 8 starts last year (1-4, 7.29 ERA, .323 BAA, 54 hits allowed in 42 innings) that Detroit sent him down to Triple-A. Two dominating starts later, Scherzer was back in the big leagues but as a totally different pitcher. In 23 starts that spanned until the end of the season, Scherzer went 11-7 with a 2.46 ERA. In 153.2 innings, he allowed only 120 hits and struck out 158 hitters. Opponents would hit just .220 against him during that span.
In those final 23 starts of last year, Scherzer became a pitcher, not a thrower. He relied on his fastball much less and used his devastating off-speed pitches much more often. According to Fangraphs, Scherzer threw his fastball 65% of the time in 2010 compared to 71% in 2009 with Arizona. His changeup rate rose from 16.7% to 19.8% and he threw his slider 15.2% of the time in 2010 compared to 12.4% in 2009. Scherzer has continued to throw his fastball less in his dominant 2011 season, using his fastball 62.8% of the time and increasing his slider usage rate to 18.5%.
It seems as if those two starts in Triple-A were a wake up call to Scherzer. He was always a talented pitcher, but never seemed to know how to best use his pitches until he returned to Detroit in late May last year. His development has possibly given the Tigers baseball’s best 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Power pitching dominates in the playoffs, and with the maturation of Scherzer, the Tigers rotation is one that no opposing team would want to see come October.