MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Scherzer aiming for 'cruise-control' counts

Nationals ace will focus on staying ahead of batters in last camp start

Scherzer aiming for 'cruise-control' counts

VIERA, Fla. -- It's Wednesday night. Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer knew he would be facing his pal, Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright, the next day at Space Coast Stadium, so they texted each other and basically said, "Game on."

Yes, it's Spring Training, but Scherzer wanted to show in Thursday's 8-2 victory over the Cardinals that he is close to being ready for the regular season, which is less than two weeks away.

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"This starts when you want to start kicking it in gear, because you have to figure out where you are at so you can tinker for the next start," Scherzer said. "[Wainwright] is in the same boat as well. We both realize we have two starts left and, hey, let's go at it. Let's make sure you bring your A-game-type stuff."

It wasn't smooth sailing for Scherzer in the first inning. The Cardinals had the bases loaded with two outs when Tommy Pham doubled home Kolten Wong and Stephen Piscotty to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead.

Scherzer would settle down by shutting out St. Louis for the next four innings. He would end up going five innings, allowing two unearned runs on three hits, striking out nine batters and walking three. Not bad, but Scherzer didn't like that the Cardinals had a lot of long at-bats. It didn't help they were fouling off a lot of pitches.

"There are some things that I did really well, and there are some things that I didn't do as well," Scherzer said. "I wasn't as efficient. When you are walking three guys, that's just inexcusable. I fell behind on quite a few guys as well. That's something I have control [over]. I have to be better at pounding the zone -- being in those 1-2 counts, not being on those 2-1 counts.

"At the same time, that's something that can be easily fixed. But at the same time, you have to like where all my pitches are at -- how everything is moving. I'm able to throw all the offspeed pitches for strikes. It's something I can build off of."

Scherzer will get one more start before he starts on Opening Day against the Braves on April 4. In the final exhibition start, Scherzer feels he needs to be in midseason form. He wants to be more efficient on the mound, pound the strike zone and be ahead in the count.

"I can get cruise-control mode and constantly be 0-1, 1-2. When you do that, you are going to be successful," Scherzer said. "But if you are falling behind 1-0 and 2-1, you are in trouble. There were too many counts today where I was falling behind. That's something I'm aware of, but that's something I need to address in the next five days so that I'm good to go for the next start and, obviously, the opener."

How does Scherzer feel about getting the Opening Day start against Braves?

"I think it's cool, but I think it's cooler for [the media] to talk about," he said. "For me, it's going out there doing what I have to do. That's just pitch deep into a ballgame and help the team win. We all get 33 starts. If you pitch on the fifth day, you are just as important. It's nice to get that nod, but at the end of the day, it doesn't mean much."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.