Max Scherzer stopped when the season ended, though he considered otherwise.
He ran a “thought exercise” with Davey Martinez because he finally felt established after his 12th start. So, maybe he should keep pitching every fifth day on his own. Scherzer trains for extended stress on his arm and his body, running through heat-soaked city streets and outfields all summer. Among the things 2020 took from him was the chance to put himself through a full 13th major-league season. He considered creating one on his own.
But, he decided not to pitch. At least at first. Scherzer’s offseason routine involves throwing more than others to keep his arm loose. He prefers not to go dormant for an extended period, which is also seemingly his overall living state.
This winter, his Christmas plans are undetermined beyond knowing everyone should buy gifts for his girls, not the guy with a $210 million contract. And that contract is steaming toward its final year. Six wild years -- personally and for the organization -- have passed. After the Nationals finish signing a variety of needed new players in the offseason, the preeminent topic at spring training will be Scherzer, 36, entering the last year of his worth-it deal.
He is yet to have a conversation with the organization about a possible extension. Mike Rizzo said Tuesday he has not talked to Scherzer about a new contract, then added the caveat that something may have occurred at the ownership level, which is where the original decision for his seven-year commitment emanated from. Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington on Wednesday he has not heard from anyone in the organization. This comes after he told NBCSW in February an extension discussion needs to originate from the team.
Yet, as Rizzo pointed out, these conversations tend to pick up at spring training. Scherzer's agent, the inimitable Scott Boras, said Tuesday he expected to meet with Ted Lerner in January, which has become an annual occurrence enabling the duo to exchange ideas and half-a-billion dollars. Scherzer’s name will come up.
“I haven’t heard anything,” Scherzer said. “For me, there’s nothing new to report on.”
So, with six years behind him, he’s focused on the year that remains. Scherzer has won two Cy Young Awards, one World Series, thrown two no-hitters (in the same season), struck out 20 batters in a nine-inning game (he’s one of just four to do that) and laid clear tracks to the Hall of Fame since arriving in Washington. The organization failed in the postseason -- as did he in Game 5 of the 2017 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs -- before the unlikely journey of 2019 ended with a Game 7 win in Houston.
He’s willing to admit the process has not been dull, even if he is reticent to reflect. It’s a standard stance for Scherzer who often swats away questions associated with historical milestones and spends little time marinating in his own stature. There’s much more to be done.
“I still have another year left to really try and execute this contract,” Scherzer said. “That’s just kind of how I try to work. I’m not going to sit here and try to reflect upon six years when I’ve still got a year left. It’s a seven-year deal. I have a year left. It’s not time to reflect on the seven years until you’ve completed it. So, the job’s not finished yet.”
Last year was OK. Not great, not bad, a step back from Scherzer’s exceptional normal. His walk rate was up, though he thinks that’s a sample-size issue and not regression. He missed fans in the stands and loathed having to sit where they normally would.
Any conversation he had with the media rode a specific rail. Scherzer was not going to complain about the environment. The protocols were extensive, the environment blah and the routines disrupted. Yet, if he had $100 for every time he said “smile on your face” he could well have doubled his salary.
“There were so many distractions, so many different ways to make an excuse why you could mentally kind of checkout,” Scherzer said. “You could come up with any reason every single day. It was not normal. The 2020 season was not normal. It was such an easy way to just get down in a Negative Nancy-type mindset.
“For me, the trick was you have to completely get rid of that. Everything is encouraging you to go down that path. You just have to realize we’re actually very fortunate here to be playing baseball, that we can continue to have our season and go out there and compete.
“You start rephrasing the conversation to yourself and your teammates and everyone in the organization to how much fun you can have despite how bad the situation is. For me, that’s just how I was going to approach the season. Nothing was going to deter me from that.”
Scherzer expects everyone to be reconvened Feb. 17 at West Palm Beach. The spring training facility allows work sessions to be spread out geographically and by time. He, per usual, is excited about resuming his work. The end of his contract is in sight. The end of his career is not, even if the location for the close has to change.
”It’s just year by year, for me,” Scherzer said. “I still love everything it takes to go out there and pitch at a high level. Still love pitching as much as I ever have. I don’t feel like I’m slowing down whatsoever and I want to continue to have as long a career as possible.”