- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2016

VIERA, Fla. — Dusty Baker does not expect his pitchers to be in mid-season form in the final days of spring training but that hardly stopped Max Scherzer from trying.

There was plenty for Scherzer to gain from Thursday’s start against the St. Louis Cardinals. He expects to pitch one more time before starting the season-opener against the Atlanta Braves on April 4, so he viewed his start as one final chance to take stock of what he wants to fine-tune before the games actually matter.

Scherzer pitched five innings and struck out nine batters to earn the win in the Nationals’ 8-2 win against the Cardinals, but he also issued three walks. He was scheduled to throw six innings or 100 pitches — whichever came first — and he had thrown 95 by the end of the fifth inning. His day was finished, but ideally he would have liked to be efficient enough to pitch through six innings.

When asked about what Scherzer could improve in his final spring starts, Baker began talking about how pitchers need to get a feel for their off-speed pitches this time of year and then stopped.

“I ain’t worried about Max,” Baker said, leaning back in his desk chair. “You guys ain’t worried about Max, are you? All right.”

However, Scherzer puts lofty expectations on himself entirely because he knows what he is capable of. He allowed two runs in the top of the first inning, but wasn’t charged with them because of an error by shortstop Trea Turner on the first play of the game. Right fielder Stephen Piscotty drew a walk in the next at-bat. Scherzer eventually got out of the inning, but not after center fielder Tommy Pham doubled in the two runs.

In the next inning, Scherzer issued a leadoff walk to third baseman Greg Garcia, but retired the next three. Scherzer eventually settled in, but still found himself falling behind in counts. In his final inning he struck out all three batters, but could have sat them down in order had he not walked Brandon Moss with two outs.

“Really just the efficiency I’ve been alluding to, pounding the zone, constantly working the count,” Scherzer said. “If I get into grooves and get into cruise control and can be 0-1, 0-2, you’re going to be successful. If you’re falling behind, you’re in trouble. There were too many counts today I was falling behind and is something I’m obviously aware of, but it’s something I need to address within these next five days so I’m ready to go in the next one and then the opener.”

When Scherzer makes his final start, he’ll take the same methodical approach. Even though it’ll be his final start of spring training, Scherzer will attack it like it’s the middle of summer.

“You’re talking about the mentality of what it takes to get to this level,” Scherzer said. “I relish pitching underneath pressure. Put as much pressure on me as possible. I have no qualms handling that because I expect that out of myself and expect to pitch efficiently. When I want to address efficiency, it’s because I know I’m capable of attacking the zone. I’m going to give up hits, give up home runs that’s going to happen. But the stuff I can control, that’s what I want to be good at. When you try to address something, it’s good for you to put that type of pressure. I welcome it.”

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