Bill Ladson

Scherzer 'takes another stride' in Cy-caliber year

Nats' ace reaches 20 wins, is confident heading into potential Game 1 start vs. Kershaw, LA

Scherzer 'takes another stride' in Cy-caliber year

WASHINGTON -- Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer had a day most pitchers dream about. Not only did he win his 20th game of the season, Scherzer knocked in a career-high four runs in a 10-7 victory over the Marlins on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

Scherzer became the second Nats pitcher to win 20 games in a season. Teammate Gio Gonzalez was the first to reach the milestone in 2012. Scherzer struck out seven and got his 20th win despite allowing five runs on nine hits in five innings.

"It's unbelievable, it's such an accomplishment," Scherzer said after the game. "Honestly, It's such a team accomplishment. These guys absolutely supported me the whole year, playing defense, going out there and scoring runs and our bullpen shutting the door. I don't win 20 without the rest of these guys in the clubhouse. They have been grinding the whole year for me. It's an unbelievable honor."

At the plate, Scherzer had a pair of two-run singles. The first came in the second inning, when he singled up the middle off Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. Two innings later, Scherzer had another single up the middle, this time off left-hander Justin Nicolino.

Scherzer singles in two runs

"I felt pretty good, especially to get some knocks and some RBIs. It feels pretty good getting those hits," Scherzer said.

Scherzer believes this season is better than the one he had in 2013, when he won the American League Cy Young Award with the Tigers. He feels he is able to do more with the baseball now than he did back then. For example, he believes his curveball is better. He is even able to throw his power slider/cutter against lefties, which didn't exist in '13. No wonder he is a National League Cy Young Award candidate this year.

"It gives me more opportunities to change up sequences, pitch guys differently than I did in '13," Scherzer said. "I've really progressed since then. In three years, I feel I've taken even another stride forward in what I'm able to do with the baseball. I'm always looking forward to making myself a better pitcher."

Scherzer wants more than reaching individual milestones. He wants to win his first World Series ring. It has not been officially announced, but Scherzer is expected to pitch the first game for Washington in the NL Division Series against the Dodgers on Friday at Nationals Park (FS1, 5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 PT). Scherzed is expected to oppose left-hander Clayton Kershaw, himself a three-time Cy Young Award winner.

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One can tell by talking to manager Dusty Baker that he has a lot of trust in his ace. Baker called Scherzer the ultimate competitor.

"He is intelligent. He is always trying to find a way to get better," Baker said. "He is brave, he's bold and he's a little bit crazy, which always helps in the equation."

While he declined to talk about the matchup with Kershaw because it was not officially announced, Scherzer said the Nationals have enough talent to reach the World Series.

"Look, we made the playoffs. I'm facing the Dodgers," he said. "That's the only thing that matters."

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for since 2002 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.