After two no-hitters in 2015, righty the favorite to be Nats' Opening Day starter
By Jamal Collier
VIERA, Fla. -- Max Scherzer was routinely compared to Johnny Vander Meer, the only pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters, last season during a two-start stretch where he allowed a combined one hit and one walk and hit one batter while throwing one no-hitter and producing the highest game score by any pitcher since 1914.
In his final start of the season, he threw his second no-hitter of the season, opening up the possibility of matching Vander Meer's record with his first start this season.
"I'm not throwing a no-hitter Opening Day," Scherzer said Friday with a laugh. "It's just not going to happen."
Considering pitch counts during the beginning of the season while pitchers are still building arm strength, the idea of Scherzer completing another no-hitter is unlikely. Still, when he had his best stuff last season, he was as unhittable as any other pitcher in baseball.
In his first season in Washington, Scherzer posted a 2.79 ERA with four complete games, a 0.92 WHIP and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings while finishing fifth in voting for the National League Cy Young Award.
Scherzer spent the offseason in Arizona biking five to six miles almost daily with the help of his two dogs, a pair of shepherd mixes that run alongside him without a leash. As he reflected on the successes of 2015, Scherzer came away most pleased with the way he commanded the strike zone, posting a career low in walks and a career high in first-pitch strikes.
"I really attacked the zone at a really high rate last year," he said. "That was what I was really, really happy with, that I had that consistency to be able to throw a strike whenever I needed to."
Scherzer is also entering his second season of work on the cutter he began to develop last season during Spring Training.
"It always takes three years to learn a pitch, and now I'm in year two of it," Scherzer said. "I'm going to keep learning new things and what I can do with it and try to find which situations it works best in. And see if I can even find some new situations where I can throw it."
And Scherzer enters the season as the favorite to anchor the Nationals staff as the Opening Day starter for the second consecutive season. Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he was still trying to get acquainted with the entire team -- Scherzer had not spoken with Baker as of Friday afternoon -- but did hint that Scherzer is likely to be his Opening Day starter, although he wants to talk with pitching coach Mike Maddux before making it official.
Just don't expect Scherzer to throw a no-hitter, at least not right away.
Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.