Scherzer K's 11, allows 0 runs in return from IL

Scherzer K’s 11, allows 0 runs in return from IL

CINCINNATI — About three hours before game time on Tuesday, Max Scherzer was already in an agitated state, stalking around the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park in search of the coaches and teammates he would need to complete his pregame planning. Manager Buck Showalter noted that “he’s certainly prepared, that’s for sure,” which was no surprise for a pitcher who had spent most of two months waiting for this moment.

When the Mets finally unleashed Scherzer following a nearly seven-week injured list stint due to a strained left oblique muscle, he proved as much. Scherzer struck out the first batter he faced on a fastball near the outside corner, then two more in the second, two more in the third, and so on and so forth. By the time he completed his six allotted innings, Scherzer had racked up 11 strikeouts and allowed only two hits. He fanned every Reds batter at least once.

“The guy has been doing that for a long time,” Reds first baseman Mike Moustakas said. “It’s just how he is. Great competitor, great stuff. He goes out there all the time and gives everything he’s got. Just is relentless in everything he does. He commands every pitch that he throws. That’s why he is who he is.”

Scherzer’s double-digit strikeout game was the 107th of his career, placing him fifth in AL/NL history. He also passed John Smoltz for 18th place on the all-time strikeout list, with 3,090.

About the only discouraging aspect for Scherzer was that he received a no-decision, departing in a scoreless game that became a 1-0 walk-off loss on a Moustakas sacrifice fly in the ninth. Despite his low pitch count of only 79, the Mets did not want to push Scherzer past six innings because he hadn’t thrown more than 4 2/3 in either of his rehab starts. It was a decision that Scherzer respected, despite his preference, in Showalter’s words, “to pitch the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the 10th.”

“Buck is going to make the best decision for the ballclub and for my health and for my long-term health,” Scherzer said. “I completely understand where he was coming from. That being said, I didn’t have any problems tonight. I felt good. I felt strong. Nothing tightened up. I wanted to get to that 90, 95 pitch count, but they just didn’t want to send me out there for the seventh.”

From the team’s perspective, such caution was warranted, given that Scherzer had missed so much time. The club had managed to weather Scherzer’s absence in enviable fashion, going 25-14 with him in the rotation and 25-16 without him. But they also understand that to reach their goals, they will need a healthy Scherzer for the second half of the season.

That’s why the Mets took mostly positives out of Tuesday’s game, despite what catcher James McCann called a “frustrating” walk-off loss.

“Max is going to be frustrated that the team didn’t win the game,” Showalter said. “But I know he’s missed competing.”

Showalter, who has seen more baseball than most living humans, was prescient enough to offer a pregame warning, noting that Reds starter Nick Lodolo would present a difficult matchup for his club. The Mets were also trying to stay away from several relievers, including Adam Ottavino, which led to Seth Lugo permitting the game-winning rally in the ninth.

It all made for a quiet postgame clubhouse, which did little to tarnish the bigger picture. The Mets remain in first place in the NL East. Their rotation is becoming whole again, with Scherzer already back in uniform, Chris Bassitt likely to follow in the coming days and Jacob deGrom by the end of the month. The Trade Deadline figures to offer additional help, perhaps in the form of a reliever and a bat.

Things are good and perhaps getting better. Tuesday’s game marked the exact halfway point of the season for the Mets, who hold the second-best record in the National League without those reinforcements yet in place.

“We’re playing great baseball,” Scherzer said. “It’s going to take the exact same formula — everybody’s going to have to do the exact same thing — to continue to play at this level for the rest of this year. To be on top, you’ve got to be consistent. You can’t just have a good first half and a bad second half. You’ve got to be good the whole year. That’s the challenge of 162, and that’s why I love it.”

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