Scherzer's 14 strikeouts pace Tigers in win
Righty K's a career high in return to Major Leagues
DETROIT -- Now that's the type of performance the Tigers were expecting when they brought in Max Scherzer from Arizona in the offseason. In fact, on Sunday he was even better than they could have hoped.
In his first start since being recalled from Triple-A Toledo, Scherzer showed why the Tigers were so high on the right-handed slinger entering this season.
He recorded 14 strikeouts in 5 2/3 shutout innings, the most ever thrown in less than six innings by a Major League pitcher since 1920 according to baseballreference.com, as the Tigers pummeled the A's, 10-2, on Sunday at Comerica Park.
His 14 strikeouts were the most tossed by a big league pitcher this season and the most tallied by a Tigers hurler since Jeremy Bonderman recorded 14 strikeouts on Aug. 23, 2004.
"It was fun," Scherzer said of his dominant performance. "Strikeouts are fun. But at the same time it ran my pitch count up and got me out of the game earlier. As much fun as they are, I would have liked to pitch longer."
"At one point I was like, 'How many strikeouts does he have?' catcher Gerald Laird said. "I remember him striking out the side twice or three times. He had it all running today."
With the way Scherzer's season had gone prior to Sunday, it would have been a far-fetched dream to even think the Tigers' righty could accomplish such a feat -- especially after being sent down to the Minors on May 15, sporting a 1-4 record with a 7.29 ERA. In his past four starts with the Tigers, he was absolutely rocked, giving up 27 runs on 33 hits over 18 innings.
But Scherzer used his time in Toledo as a learning experience, not a punishment. He threw a bullpen session his first day there and altered his mechanics. Before leaving Detroit, he said his arm slot needed adjusting. In reality, he tweaked his arm action to get more on top of the ball and create more leverage at his release point.
"It was really a six-week process," Scherzer said. "In my first start, I thought my tempo was off. But it was the same. So I was searching for answers throughout the whole process. I knew something was still off, but I couldn't put my finger on it. It really took me getting shelled to come up with new ideas.
The result: an outstanding individual performance in his first game back in the big leagues that completely shut down the A's bats. He struck out every Oakland batter at least once and allowed only two hits.
Prior to Sunday, reports from Toledo indicated to Tigers manager Jim Leyland that it would be pointless for Scherzer to throw another game for the Mud Hens. He was just too dominant in his two starts, boasting a 2-0 record and a 0.60 ERA. But not even Leyland could have expected to witness how impressive Scherzer was on Sunday.
"I hope everybody understands sending a player down isn't punishment," Leyland said. "It's to hopefully get results like we got today. You have to go down there and work on something and get better and get yourself back in sync and grab the bull by the horns. This was one outing so I don't want to get too carried away, but obviously that was pretty impressive."
Scherzer's fastball command was at the heart of his success. He brought the heat in 81 of his 113 pitches, staying in the mid-90s for the duration of his outing. By establishing the fastball early, he set himself up perfectly for the trickery of his offspeed pitches.
"Someone woke up Cy Young and brought him to the park today," said A's starting pitcher Dallas Braden (4-5), whose start was completely overshadowed by Scherzer. Braden surrendered five earned runs and tied a career high by surrendering 11 hits.
"I really didn't see anything or hit anything," said Daric Barton, who fanned three times against Scherzer. "He dealt. He basically threw two pitches to us today and dominated. He showed us, and them, that he belongs here. You have to tip your cap.
"I don't ever want to face him again," Barton added. "He's nasty."
While Scherzer was mowing down A's hitters early in the game -- he struck out six of the first eight batters he faced -- the Tigers' bats were coming to life for the first time in the series. The home team tallied one run in each of the first four innings.
Most importantly for the Tigers, the offense was coming from someone other than Miguel Cabrera. Brandon Inge (.229) and Laird (.168) came up big on the afternoon. Inge went 3-for-3 with a double and a home run, while Laird went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
While the bottom of the order was productive, Cabrera (4-for-5) wouldn't let them completely steal the offensive show. In the eighth inning, he sent a slider soaring through the air that appeared to be a sure flyout to left field. But the ball carried the fence for a three-run homer, his fourth of the series.
But Sunday's win was all about Scherzer's dramatic return to the big leagues, and the work he put forth to make it possible. On the same day that the Tigers designated for assignment clubhouse favorite, Dontrelle Willis, Scherzer gave the team something else to talk about.
"Today was big for us because it was Scherzer coming back," Leyland said. "And we didn't know what was going to happen. Did he get straightened out down there? What was it going to be like? It really was a big game for us and a big game for our pitching staff. If we can get him on a roll like that, that really upgrades our rotation."
The changes Scherzer made weren't just with his mechanics. He also selected a new locker in the Tigers' clubhouse and almost made another big change, as well.
"I was contemplating changing my number," Scherzer said. "But I was watching the game last night and I saw G-money [Laird] hit a home run that got taken back, so I realized that wasn't for me. I realized I better just stay 37. It worked out today."
Alex DiFilippo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.