- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2015

VIERA, Fla. — From the moment Max Scherzer got clubhouse and equipment manager Mike Wallace’s phone number, the texts have been constant.

When he first arrived, Scherzer didn’t know where to park at Space Coast Stadium, nor where the Nationals’ clubhouse is located. He didn’t know where he could lift weights, receive medical treatment or even go to the bathroom. He didn’t know much of anything about his new team, or its new-to-him facility in Viera.

So Scherzer did what any player does, whether he’s making $1 million or $210 million: he leaned on Wallace.

“He’s your best friend right now,” he said with a smile.

Early Friday morning, Scherzer’s golf clubs laid in a bag resting at his locker, and soon thereafter, the 30-year-old right-hander himself was there, lacing up cleats. After reporting to the facility and taking his physical, Scherzer walked out to shallow right field and played catch on flat ground. He had his first interview with local reporters since his introductory press conference. And he met Stephen Strasburg, among a handful of other new teammates.

It’s still all very new for Scherzer, but he’s getting used to life with the Nationals. And he’s excited to get back to work.

“In sports, you never stay the same. You either get better, or you get worse,” Scherzer said. “I’m focused on ways to get better, and there’s things I think I can do this year that I haven’t been able to do in the past. I’m looking to continue to get better and refine [the] stuff that I can do on the mound.”

The Nationals signed Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract a little less than a month ago, strengthening an already stellar starting rotation and making him the highest-paid right-hander in major league history. The 2013 American League Cy Young award-winner believes that people view him differently now because of his contract, but he said his day-to-day life hasn’t changed. He’s still the same guy.

What has changed, however, is everything around him. He walked into the clubhouse Friday knowing only two other people in the room: Doug Fister, who was his teammate in Detroit, and Matt Thornton, an offseason training partner. The stadium is different, the coaching staff is different and even his responsibilities are slightly different. Moving from the American League to the National League, he’ll now be asked to hit like he did early in his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I’m going to have to lay down the golf clubs for a little bit and figure out how to break that swing down and figure out how to hit,” Scherzer said with a smile. “So that’s going to be fun.”

Scherzer demurred when asked if he would try to live up to his ace-worthy contract or embrace any sort of leadership role on the team. One thing Scherzer admitted he will bring to the clubhouse is an assortment of new betting pools.

Fister said it’s much more than that.

“He’s an all-around type of guy,” Fister said Thursday. “He’s a jokester at times. He’s a guy that’s going to be focused and serious at other times, so he’s got a good, well-balanced personality that’s going to add to what we have here, the guys who are serious, the guys who are jokesters. We have a certain feeling in the locker room, and I think he’s just going to add to that feeling of comfort and a tight-knit family group.”

The addition of Scherzer made the Nationals a World Series favorite in Las Vegas nearly overnight. After winning the most games in the National League in two of the past three seasons, Washington now has the best rotation in baseball, a group some pundits have called historically grat. Expectations have never been higher, but with those expectations comes a tremendous amount of pressure, to win and win now.

Scherzer has always dealt well with pressure. He said it’s something he’s developed over time.

“You just mentally compartmentalize everything,” he said. “You just don’t get flustered by anything that happens to you, and as you keep getting through the game, more and more distractions keep happening, you just learn how to tune everything out. Let everything be white noise and just continue to focus on what you want to do and find out what your true motivations are within this game.

“You can have motivation to prove people wrong, but for me that doesn’t work. Trying to prove people wrong just doesn’t do it for me. Going out there and competing against the other team and going out there and having to compete over 33 starts and trying to win every single time, that’s my motivation. That’s what makes me tick. That’s what makes me work hard, is finding a way to compete against everybody, and that’s what will continue to happen for me.”

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