Sunday, February 25

Max Scherzer strikes out 11 vs. Cubs

CHICAGO — It’s safe to say that Max Scherzer is back to doing Cy Young things.

Despite missing almost seven weeks on the injured list with an oblique strain, Scherzer hasn’t missed a beat in his return. That continued in the Mets’ 4-3 win in 10 innings in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, where New York swept both games.

“It all started with Max, keeping us engaged in the game,” manager Buck Showalter said. “These are games that good teams win.”

Scherzer has delivered three straight quality starts since being activated. In his latest from him, he has allowed two runs on eight hits and one walk with 11 strikeouts across 6 1/3 innings.

“It was good to actually get up to 100 pitches and get built up,” the right-hander said after throwing 102 pitches. “There was a lot of good that came out of today.”

Scherzer followed up teammate Taijuan Walker, who shone in Game 1’s 2-1 win in 11 innings, and helped set the tone in Game 2. The two Mets starters gave up a combined three runs on 12 hits with three walks and 16 strikeouts.

It was a strange line for Scherzer, who was tagged for four hits in the first two innings. But the three-time Cy Young winner did what he’s been doing his entire career. I’ve started racking up strikeouts.

With his 11 strikeouts on Saturday, Scherzer now ranks tied for fourth all-time with Pedro Martínez with 108 career double-digit strikeout games. The 11 punchouts matched his season high from his return against the Reds on July 5.

Since that highly anticipated return, Scherzer has been on another level. He has struck out 31, walked only one and given up just three runs in 19 1/3 innings. And there’s actually an easy answer for that success.

“This is going to shock you, but I feel like I can just grip the ball,” Scherzer said. “The first eight starts I threw I was in freezing cold weather. Now, I come back and it’s warmed up.”

Although the 37-year-old allowed just two runs against the Cubs, his ERA actually rose to 2.22 from 2.15. His 7.5 K/BB ranks third in the Majors among pitchers with at least 60 innings, while his hard hit rate (31.5 percent), strikeout rate (33.2 percent) and walk rate (4.6 percent) all entered Saturday ranked in the top 10 percent of the league.

But even with another dominant second half hopefully on tap for Scherzer, he’s still frustrated he let his team down in a big way by missing a chunk of the season.

“Yeah, I’ve gone out there and pitched well and that’s great,” Scherzer said. “But to have that injury. I pride myself on durability and always taking the ball. To miss six or seven starts, that’s unacceptable for me, you can’t do that. My job as a pitcher is to go out there every single time. Yes, I’m pitching well and I expect that out of myself, but I can’t [get] hurt. that [injury] was 100 percent on me. I realized that I got to be smarter in the future.”

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Scherzer’s impact on the Mets’ rotation is clear even when he’s not a part of it. Entering Saturday, the Mets’ starting rotation had an MLB best 1.65 ERA since his return from him. When Scherzer missed seven weeks from May 19-July 4, New York’s starting ERA was eighth highest in the Majors at 4.92.

Of course, having an eight-time All-Star back helps. But Scherzer doesn’t pitch every day, so recent pitching production is an indication of just how important he is around the clubhouse and the team.

“Max has been excellent,” said Pete Alonso, who drove in the go-ahead run in both games. “He’s a huge leader for us, and the energy he brings and the presence he has on the mound is awesome. It’s obviously fantastic having him back.”

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