Much of the chances for success for the Tigers this year are pinned on having elite-level starting pitching from the first two starters. Justin Verlander has been, by and large, one of the best right handers in all of baseball since joining the rotation as a rookie in 2006, so it stands to reason that he would be counted on to give another outstanding performance this season.
The other half of the Tigers 1-2 punch is Max Scherzer. Scherzer was phenomenal from the end of May through the last day of the season in 2010, but prior to that he pitched so poorly that he earned himself a trip to Triple-A. He was able to fix his mechanical issues within two starts for the MudHens last year and the general feeling coming into this season has been that Scherzer would continue to mature into the elite-level starter he was pegged to be when the Diamondbacks made him a first-round draft pick.
Scherzer was hammered by the Baltimore Orioles in his final Spring Training start yesterday, allowing 11 earned runs and nine hits in only 2.1 innings of work. After the game, Scherzer noted that he was flying open on his delivery and that he has some work to do when he throws a bullpen session in advance of his season debut which will come in New York on Sunday.
“I think I’ve got a couple things I’m doing wrong,” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve been in this situation before, and I know it only takes one bullpen [session] to fix it. …
“I’m going to have a long bullpen here. I’m really going to work on some things, so that’s going to help.”
There certainly is some validity in the thought that this is only Spring Training and perhaps Scherzer can get this out of his system before the season begins. Almost every pitcher goes through periods where his mechanics fall apart from time to time. The key is being able to identify the problem and make the necessary adjustments in a timely fashion. The good news is that Scherzer has been able to self-diagnose his mechanical issues in the past through watching film and he plans to do the same thing between now and Sunday.
Scherzer’s rough camp finished up with an ERA of over 10 in 25.2 innings of work. Despite that, he says his slider is better now than at any point last season and he’s confident that he’ll pitch well this season.
So how much stock do you put into a bad Spring Training? I can tell you that my confidence in him has taken a bit of a hit with his results thus far. Scherzer, for all the hype and all the talent, has really only had about two-thirds of a season’s worth of success as a major league pitcher. This isn’t a guy who has a tremendous track record that you can point to and simply write-off a bad camp performance. No, Spring Training results don’t ultimately matter, but they certainly could be an indicator of what we may see early in the regular season.
As the Tigers open up with strong offensive clubs on the road in New York and Baltimore, we had better hope that Scherzer can find and fix the flaws in his delivery as soon as possible.