DETROIT -- Max Scherzer's contract year is about to begin, which should be an unfamiliar feeling for the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner as well as the Tigers.
The long-running saga of Scherzer and the Royals, by contrast, is very familiar.
"They have such a history of you, and you have a history against them, it's the ultimate game of paper/scissors/rock," Scherzer said.
It's a game he has been winning lately as he heads into his 18th career meeting with Kansas City on Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park. After splitting his first eight decisions against the Royals over his first three seasons, he's 5-0 with a 2.86 ERA against them over the past two seasons.
Scherzer's first two starts with the Tigers in 2010 came against the Royals, both losses. His recent run of success against Kansas City arguably became a harbinger of his breakout overall as an elite starting pitcher. As he prepares for what could be the biggest season of his career, trying to follow up a season in which he was nearly unbeatable, their latest matchup should provide a very good test, with a potential AL Central race on the line.
"I'm not going to say it's any different because from my end, I've always respected what they've been able to do," Scherzer said. "Even when they have struggled as a team, they've also always been very good offensively. They've always done a lot at the plate."
The numbers for the Royals off Scherzer stand in contrast to their recent success off fellow Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. Billy Butler, Verlander's longtime nemesis, is 12-for-47 with no home runs off Scherzer. Yet, Alex Gordon is 11-for-28 with two homers against him, one of them last year.
Salvador Perez was 5-for-7 with two home runs off Scherzer until last year, when he went 2-for-11.
"I'm just doing my job, he's just doing his job," Perez said.
Asked who gets the advantage as the numbers pile up, Scherzer paused and pondered.
"I don't know, It's weird," he said. "My first inclination is to say that it's an advantage to the hitters, because they know what you have. But then it goes back to me, and I know I have a history of what we've done. I think when it becomes an advantage for pitchers is when you can recognize and then make adjustments off of what's been done. That's where, at the end of the day, it's really a push.
"For me, I continue to get better and continue to make adjustments on my end. And I'm sure they're going to continue to make adjustments against me and try to find my patterns."
Scherzer's contract situation, he insists, will have no impact. The right-hander received a loud ovation during pregame player introductions on Opening Day, seemingly a sign that the breakoff of talks on an extension this spring won't be carried as a grudge.
"I'm here to pitch and win," Scherzer said. "I'm here to help get the team to the postseason. That's the only thing on my plate right now. All the off-field stuff takes care of itself off the field, but everything on the field stays the same. I can't wait to get back out there, get between the lines and toe the rubber."
Royals: Vargas makes KC debut
While Scherzer enters what could be his final season with Detroit, Jason Vargas begins what he hopes will be a successful Royals tenure after signing a four-year, $32 million contract last November.
The Royals moved aggressively to sign Vargas early in the Hot Stove season to bolster their rotation against teams like the Tigers. He didn't face them last year, but he's 2-0 with three quality starts against Detroit since 2011.
Thus, when manager Ned Yost was asked about facing Detroit's dominant starting trio of Justin Verlander, Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, Yost turned the tables.
"They're facing [James] Shields, Vargas, [Yordano] Ventura. We like our pitchers, too," he said. "They're tough pitchers -- Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez are tough in March, they're tough in April, they're tough in May, they're tough in July. So it doesn't matter. It's a challenge to come out and compete against these guys. We did last year [10-9 vs. Tigers] and look to do it again this year."
Tigers: Hoping for luck vs. lefties
Detroit's offense finished second in the Majors in runs scored last year, but those runs tended to come in bunches, with struggles in between. Those struggles tended to come against lefties; Detroit hit 21 points lower against southpaws (.269) than it did against right-handers (.290).
The new-look Tigers offense focused on finding various ways to produce runs, and hitting left-handers would seem to be one of them. With Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis and Nick Castellanos on board, all right-handed hitters, they would seem better prepared for lefties.
• Nine of the Royals' 25 players were not on the roster when last season began: pitchers Francisley Bueno, Vargas and Ventura, catcher Brett Hayes, infielders Pedro Ciriaco, Omar Infante and Danny Valencia, and outfielders Nori Aoki and Justin Maxwell. Vargas, Infante, Aoki and Valencia are wearing a Kansas City uniform for the first time.
• Miguel Cabrera needs four hits to reach 2,000 for his career.
• After relatively balmy temperatures in the mid-50s for Opening Day, Wednesday's forecast for Detroit calls for temperatures in the lower 50s, though with sunshine.