- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The same issue that was on Max Scherzer’s mind when moving into last offseason is on his mind now. He’s allowing home runs at a high rate.

Scherzer went into last winter in search of a solution for the 27 home runs he allowed in 2015. Of those, 17 occurred in the second half during an odd sequence where Scherzer’s overall numbers became worse, yet he threw a no-hitter — also one of the best-pitched games in baseball history — to close the season.

His home run-allowed total was the second-highest of his career. The home runs came early in the count, nine on the first or second pitch, and late in the count, with nine occurring after five or more pitches. Most were mid-thigh or higher, meaning if the pitch was up, it had a much better chance of going out. Of the 27, 19 were solo home runs. A majority, 20, were on fastballs.

This year, Scherzer has allowed five home runs in five starts. Of those, four have been on fastballs. The other was a slider to Atlanta Braves outfielder Adonis Garcia.

Most of this, in Scherzer’s mind, can be tied to fastball command. It’s something he doesn’t have much of right now since his usually precise control has gone rogue. Scherzer has 12 walks already this season. Tuesday night, he walked four Philadelphia Phillies batters in six innings. Last year, he walked four batters in April, four in June and five in July. In particular, his first-strike percentage has taken a significant dip. It’s down to 61.5 percent from a career-best 71.3 last season. So, he’s pitching from behind more often.

“You go through funks, and right now this is a funk,” Scherzer said. “At the end of the day, this is an easy thing to correct. Minor tweak, you get through it. For me, I envision myself attacking the zone at a much higher rate next start.”

Two starts ago against the Miami Marlins, when he allowed five earned runs in five innings, Scherzer determined he had small mechanical adjustments to make. He said that in Miami, his top half was not finishing through the pitch. He thinks he fixed that issue.

On Tuesday night against Philadelphia, he noticeably held his follow through longer, trying to improve the “finish” on his pitches. Despite the walks — which irritate him greatly — and another home run allowed, Scherzer felt things were better. He thinks a simple and quick fix is attainable.

“My fastball is in a bit of a funk right now,” Scherzer said. “Kind of know what I need to do. I’m not getting extension through that pitch. That’s the reason why I’m missing on command, why I’m throwing balls in certain situations where I’m typically throwing strikes. That’s where it’s just a minor adjustment of getting extension through the pitch.”

During the recent inefficient outings, Scherzer has done his best to hang in the game. His 4.35 ERA is the highest on the team. It would be worse if he was not able to drag himself to the fifth or sixth innings. His ERA in the first inning is 14.40. In the fourth through sixth innings, it is 2.57.

“Everything’s not broke,” Scherzer said. “This isn’t a time where you just beat everything around, throw your glove around. The pitches are there. It’s just a little fine-tuning. That’s the difference between dominance and being average at this level. It can be that fine of a difference.”

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