For the better part of the first two months of 2014, Max Scherzer wasn't the same pitcher he was for most of his outstanding Cy Young season of 2013.
Early on, Scherzer fought through his share of bad outings. He gave up runs, had up and down weeks and had his share of trouble. Ever since then, though, Scherzer has bounced back impressively and is returning to ace form for the Detroit Tigers.
Thursday night, Scherzer wasn't untouchable when taking on the Los Angeles Angels. He did, however, do more than enough to win. Through seven solid innings, Scherzer gave the Tigers 11 strikeouts with only one walk, and only surrendered three earned runs all night.
Some of the star-powered talent Scherzer mowed down with ease? Try Mike Trout (.309), who had two strikeouts, Howie Kendrick (.292) who had two of his own, Josh Hamilton (293) also whiffed twice, and C.J. Cron (nine home runs) led everyone with three swings and misses.
Other than a messy fifth inning, Scherzer pitched confidently, winning the showdown against Garrett Richards, a pitcher with a nearly identical record. Mentally, it was a huge development for the Tigers and Scherzer. They beat the ace of the Angels' staff head-to-head on the road.
For Scherzer himself, the win raised his 2014 record to 12-3, and served notice on the national stage that as far as aces go, he's back. A few inconsistencies early may have raised concerns, but Scherzer can be just as dominating as ever when he steps up his game. That makes both he and the Tigers very dangerous in the playoffs, where they would likely have to face the best of the west coast.
Planting these seeds of frustration now will only help the Angels remember Scherzer's name later. It's the second time this season that he out-dueled Los Angeles, with a similar win in May. That day, Trout had his worst day as a professional hitter, striking out four times. All told, with the notable exception of a loss against Cleveland, Scherzer's last five outings are solid, with the pitcher not allowing more than three runs with high strikeout totals.
As the calendar prepares to switch to August, a more consistently dominating Scherzer looks ready to assume his place back atop Detroit's rotation. That's great news for the Tigers and bad news for everyone else.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.
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Tags: Baseball, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, Garrett Richards, Max Scherzer, Mike Trout, MLB