Scherzer delivers gem against D-backs
Boesch, Guillen hit back-to-back jacks in Tigers' win
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer is known as a power pitcher who blows away opposing hitters with his fastball. He had a game earlier this season where he fanned 14 batters in 5 2/3 innings, and he's struck out seven or more in four of his last five starts.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
But after his performance on Sunday to help the Tigers to a 3-1 win over the D-backs, Tigers manager Jim Leyland wants to reclassify him as, well, a pitcher's pitcher.
Despite running up a high pitch count early, Scherzer (4-6) established his slider early and stuck with it throughout the game. And when the slider is on, watch out. He located the third pitch in his arsenal on both sides of the plate and gave the D-backs' hitters fits on the afternoon, going seven innings with one earned run and striking out eight.
"I think if Scherzer takes to this what he should take from it, this should be a giant step, not only this year, but for his career," Leyland said. "Today he pitched. He learned the art of pitching, not just pumping fastballs.
"He was tremendous. I thought he took a giant step forward."
Scherzer did to the D-backs on Sunday what Edwin Jackson did to the Tigers the previous night. Both playing against their former teams, they brought their best stuff to the table. Luckily, for Scherzer, the Tigers hit back-to-back home runs in the seventh inning to back up his one earned run outing.
It didn't start out pretty for Scherzer, though. It took him 36 pitches to get through the first inning and he allowed his lone run of the game. But he was fine with it. For him, it was all about getting the slider going early and sticking with it.
Two starts ago, on June 10 against the White Sox, Scherzer decided he was going to start utilizing his slider early. In the past, he would wait to get his slider going until the third or fourth inning. But starting it out that late didn't give him a good feel for the pitch. If he could get it working out of the gates to both right and left-handed batters, it would open the door for his sizzling fastball.
It only took four sliders in the 36-pitch first inning for Scherzer to have confidence in the pitch when he needed an out.
"That was a big key for me," Scherzer said of his slider. "I was able to incorporate my slider and start pitching with that. That allowed me to have success. I was able to throw three pitches to both left-handed and right-handed batters."
Despite the gem tossed by Scherzer, the Tigers' bats made him sweat it out. Entering the seventh inning the score was still 1-0 and Scherzer was in position to take the loss.
But rookie Brennan Boesch came to the rescue. With Miguel Cabrera on base, he blasted a 410-foot shot to right field to give the Tigers the lead. The very next batter, Carlos Guillen, did the same thing, hitting a solo homer to right field.
"I was so happy when that ball went out," Scherzer said. "As soon as he hit it, it was a no-doubter. I was happy because I battled through the whole game to give our team a chance to win. That was really gratifying for me to grab the lead in the seventh inning."
Masked by the Scherzer outing was an impressive performance by D-backs starter Ian Kennedy.
After surrendering a double in the first inning and a single in the second, Kennedy went on to retire 13 consecutive Detroit batters before taking the loss due to a pair of errant pitches that left the park in the seventh.
"That was an outstanding pitching performance," Leyland said of Kennedy. "He had good control. On a hot day he got a couple there he didn't want to and we happened to run into them. But he was tremendous. He really pitched. When you look at him you don't go 'oohh' and 'aahh' because you don't see 96 or 97 [mph]. But this guy is a really good pitcher. I was really impressed. He pitched one of the better games against us that's been pitched this year I felt."
Reliever Joel Zumaya threw a shutout eighth inning and closer Jose Valverde entered to toss the ninth -- a hot topic of debate lately, especially with Miguel Montero, because of his celebratory antics on the mound. After striking out Montero with three consecutive splitters on Friday, Valverde did his usual postgame celebration, even though the K was only the second out of the inning.
Montero took exception, saying the way Valverde acts "is not right."
The stage was set when Montero came to the plate after Valverde retired Justin Upton. Valverde threw a fastball on the first pitch then went back to his splitter, resulting in an easy groundout.
"He's a good pitcher," Montero said. "I thought he was going to challenge me with a fastball and he didn't."
Valverde went on to retire the next batter, Chris Young, to end the game and give the Tigers their third consecutive series win.
Prior to the nine-game homestand, catcher Gerald Laird said the Tigers needed to win at least seven of the nine games against three National League bottom-feeders. Mission accomplished. And it sure feels sweet to have pulled back within 1 1/2 games of the Twins before heading out on a nine-day road trip.
"It was a good homestand," Laird said. "They are teams that all of us thought we should beat, but they are all big league teams. They aren't slouches and you have to bring you're A-game. We have a tough road trip coming up and to get some momentum, especially winning that last one, was huge."
Alex DiFilippo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.