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Max Scherzer is having the best month of his career

Max Scherzer is having the best month of his career

Max Scherzer’s black eye receded from the full-circle package to a dark half-moon before he took the mound in Miami. And his memory reminded him of the last time he was there. It was April 20 and produced his worst start of the season: 5 1/3 innings, 11 hits, six earned runs, a loss to drop his record to 1-3 and raise his ERA to 4.34. The latter number has declined in every start since.

Scherzer’s eight innings of one-run ball Tuesday night against the Marlins drove his ERA down to 2.52. His league-leading strikeout total again increased by 10 for the fourth consecutive game. He walked no one. It took just 94 pitches -- 71 strikes -- to reach that point Tuesday in the Nationals' 6-1 win.

Two questions emerged after the outing: Is Scherzer back in the National League Cy Young Award race? Is this the best month of his career?

The first is an easy yes. His 4.2 WAR (according to Fangraphs) coming into the night was by far the best of any pitcher in the major leagues. National League ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu is second in the NL at 3.3. Scherzer leads the National League in innings pitched, strikeouts, starts and strikeouts per nine. He is third in strikeout-to-walk ratio, fourth in WHIP, fourth in OPS against, seventh in batting average against. In a nutshell, Scherzer is again dominating while doing the heavy lifting. He makes every start. He gets into the seventh inning or later 58.9 percent time. He handles all comers.

His June blitz, in particular, has put him back in the Cy Young discussion. Following Tuesday night’s man-handling of Miami, Scherzer has a 0.97 ERA in the month. He’s struck out 54 and walked five. His WHIP is 0.70. Each start has lasted seven innings or more. He’s thrown 70 percent of his 536 pitches for strikes.

Why is he so diabolical? Look at the first three innings Tuesday against the Marlins. A 14-pitch first included some effort and 10 fastballs. Scherzer picked up no swinging strikes on those fastballs, which meant the eager Marlins were getting a good look at the pitch. So, he changed.

In the second inning, Scherzer threw five four-seam fastballs, four sliders/cutters, (Scherzer calls his 90-mph pitch often identified as a “cutter” his “power slider”), three changeups and three curveballs. That mix produced five swinging strikes.

In the third inning, six fastballs, five sliders, one changeup, three swinging strikes.

Which is the complication for the opposition. He will move off whatever is not working and immediately dispatch a fresh bouquet. He can command all of it, throw any of it when he wants, and he’s been obsessing over it for almost a week. Good luck.

An age-35 season is not supposed to be a time of ascension, but, as he is wont to do, Scherzer appears to be running against perceived norms. 

June of 2017 is the only month of his career to challenge June of 2019 for personal supremacy. The numbers that month: 0.99 ERA, 36 ⅓ innings pitched, 51 strikeouts, six walks, a 0.55 WHIP. He made five starts that month. He’s already made five this June, struck out more batters and walked fewer while carrying a lower ERA.

Scherzer has a start remaining this month. It comes against one of his former teams, the Detroit Tigers. No major-league club has scored fewer runs. That mix should further define this as the best month of Scherzer’s Hall-of-Fame bound career and help answer the Cy Young question, too.

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Gerardo Parra is gone, but will never be forgotten

Gerardo Parra is gone, but will never be forgotten

There was a down time for Gerardo Parra. His non-stop bubbliness lost some perk once he entered a month-long slump. Parra did not ride his scooter into the clubhouse with the same joy. His work in the dugout during games dialed back to enthusiastic, living below his usual level of a rocket being launched into a volcano. He wasn't himself. So, Davey Martinez called him into the manager’s office.

“I sat with him. I said, what's going on?’” Martinez said during the postseason. “He said, ‘I don't know, I'm not doing good.’ And I go, ‘And?’ And he looked at me and said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Your job is to bring the energy every day. I don't care if you're 2 for 100. Bring the energy. Play that music, get loud, and have fun. Have fun.'

“He said, you're right, and he went back and started playing music, having fun. Lo and behold, he went on a tear again, and he comes back in my office, and he said, you know, I kind of forgot what it was like to just be myself. And I said, exactly. So I don't ever want to see you do that again, you know? You're another heartbeat of this team. It's not just about you, it's about everybody else. Like I said, 2 for 100, you've got to be yourself.”

Parra being himself turned into one of the grand storylines of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series season. His daily arrival was stirring, like someone tossed a bag of sunshine into the clubhouse. His scooter-propelled entrances included horn-blowing and extra laps and what-the-hell-is-this-guy-doing smiles. Often, he wore blacked-out sunglasses when circling the clubhouse, darting right back to the training area, then pulling a u-turn to zip through the other side of the clubhouse and past the dining room before an abrupt halt at his locker.

Parra’s next stop -- scooter inclusion to be determined -- is Japan. He signed a one-year contract with the Yomiuri Giants late Tuesday, the team announced. His departure ends arguably the most memorable, non-quantifiable, pervasive bit player show in organization history. It’s 2020 on-field impact is nil.

“When Gerardo Parra joined the team, something happened,” managing principal owner Mark Lerner said during the postseason. “Whatever it was, it was magic.”

Parra caused Freddie Freeman’s bewilderment. His presence led to a stadium-full of adults -- by age -- clapping along to a child’s song which included lyrics and a beat never to be extracted from one’s skull once heard. His father sat at Parra’s locker on the red cushion of a folding chair in his “Papa Shark” T-shirt. Even founding principal owner Ted Lerner, a 94-year-old man of business and sternness, paused to mention the “Baby Shark” situation at the team’s parade. 

“I want to say a special word to the veterans on this team: from now on, you can call me, ‘Grandpa Shark.’”

Max Scherzer cackled.

Parra’s May 11 grand slam in Los Angeles was one of the few palatable points in the month and indicative of his ability in big spots. He finished the season with a 1.117 OPS with runners in scoring position. 

Late in the year, Scherzer said the team had an “it factor.” Asked how he knew, he couldn’t explain. “You just know it when you see it.” This stance applied to Parra because moments became his.

The pop culture surge of his song choice -- a result of his daughter’s relentless listening and an attempt at slump-breaking -- put Parra in front of cameras all season. A television hit on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk” was part of his media rounds. Afterward, he beamed. 

Parra, born in Venezuela, went back to the clubhouse to describe his success. “I nailed it,” he said. He went on to tout the quality of his English during the segment. It was so good, he thought a name change was necessary.

“My name is no more Gerardo, it's Gerard,” Parra told Martinez.

Martinez’s reaction?

“You can't be serious. You've got to laugh at him, but he was dead serious. And he started going around the clubhouse saying, ‘You call me Gerard from now on.’ Whatever.”

Gerardo, Gerard, the song, the scooter, the smiles and rose-colored glasses are off to Japan. Staying is a legacy of fun, which won't go away.

 

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Nationals fans recall best memories of Gerardo Parra in farewell to 'Baby Shark'

Nationals fans recall best memories of Gerardo Parra in farewell to 'Baby Shark'

The memories from the Nationals' first-ever World Series-winning season will live on forever, especially those memories including Gerardo Parra and "Baby Shark."

Early Wednesday, Parra signed with Japanese baseball team the Yomiuri Giants. Although only a Washington National for a short time, Parra's impact on the 2019 Nats will be felt forever.

We took to Twitter to ask Nats fans about their favorite Parra memories, and the replies will make you nostalgic.

An overwhelming number said Parra's go-ahead grand slam against the Dodgers.

Just days after his arrival in Washington, Parra's first hit as a National was a go-ahead grand slam on May 11.

In June, Parra decided to change his walkup song after hitting a bit of a slump. Inspired by his two-year-old daughter's favorite song, he chose "Baby Shark."

"Baby Shark's" debut game? Against the Philadelphia Phillies, a game in which he threw Bryce Harper out at third base.

“That's the only chance I had to get Harper,” Parra said to NBC Sports Washington following that June 19th matinee. “I know he's an aggressive player and I tried to get everything perfect. Bare-handed, throw the ball as fast as I can. I think that changed the game.”

Other fond memories involved Stephen Strasburg. Parra is credited for bringing out his fun side this season.

One of the iconic Parra-Stras tangos came after the Nats' clinched their first-ever World Series berth.

Getting Strasburg to agree to a hug was another fond Parra memory.

The best hugs were the World Series hugs.

No matter your favorite Parra memory, one thing is for certain. Gerardo Parra and his impact in Washington, D.C., will never be forgotten.

Farewell, Parra Shark.

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