HARTFORD, Connecticut. — The right-hander ace with 3,000 strikeouts and a Hall of Famer resume took the mound at Citi Field on Wednesday afternoon. En route to victory, he threw eight close innings against the first-place team. It fit perfectly with the Mets’ vision for their summer, except for one big detail.
The pitcher was Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros, not Max Scherzer of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. Scherzer followed the game 2-0 defeat Metsfrom afar.
“I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, not the whole thing,” Scherzer said Wednesday night outside a guest club at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, where he threw 80 paces in a rehab start against Class AA Hartford Yard Goats. “But I am aware of what has happened in the last couple of days.”
There have been two home losses to the Astros, matching the Mets’ two losses in Houston last week. Scherzer did not pitch for the Mets all month as he recovered from an oblique injury sustained on May 18. Atlanta Braves coming fast.
In early June, the Braves were 10.5 games behind the Mets. Going into Thursday’s game in Philadelphia, they were 21-5 in June, setting Atlanta’s franchise record for most wins in a month and three games clear of the lead.
The Mets’ offense – not their pitching – bogged down in Scherzer’s absence. In June, the team hit just .232 with a .301 on-base percentage and a .369 slugging percentage. Only two NL teams arrived on the last day of the month with a worse June OPS than the Mets of .670: also the running Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Mets’ average earned mileage for the month was 4.32, just 0.01 higher than their mark in May. Taijuan Walker played seven and one-third scoreless innings on Wednesday and pitched as an All-Star since Scherzer lost. The fillings were solid.
“What David Peterson was able to do, what Trevor Williams was able to do, they really held the fort,” Scherzer said. “They pitched really well and gave the baseball club some quality starts and quality pitches. Therefore, the lead is what it is and not even lower.
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The Mets will play 14 of their next 17 games against record losing teams, starting with three home games against the Texas Rangers this weekend. They will also face the Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, Braves and Chicago Cubs before the All-Star break. Scherzer is lining up to start three of those games after announcing Wednesday that rehab was over.
“I’m ready to go,” he said.
Scherzer, who said he could start playing the Mets on Wednesday, used all of his pitches for four and two-thirds of the innings, hitting eight in one outing and hitting 97 mph with his fastball. The Yard Goats received four hits and three stolen bases from Scherzer and catcher Francisco Alvarez, the Mets’ main prospect, who cleared the left field stands with his 18th home run.
Defeated the Rumble Ponies 7-3and Scherzer bought the spread after the game, in keeping with baseball custom for major league players passing through the farm.
“They are eating well today,” Scherzer said.
Scherzer ran a pre-match routine in the outfield under a scoreboard surmounted by a giant Dunkin coffee cup. He practiced his serve without a ball or glove, stretching from side to side, dangling his legs, jogging down the warning track, and running several times from left center field to a spot near the left field line.
Scherzer wore an alternate blue “Bing” Ponies jersey over the Binghamton, New York skyline with balloons near the shoulders. He missed another alternate jersey for several days; Last Saturday the team took to the field under the name Binghamton Stud Muffins.
When he missed the spot on the pitch, Scherzer winced and flicked his glove for Alvarez’s return shot. In most cases, he immediately returned with the same serve and put it where he wanted. He wanted to stay for one or two more strokes—”My arm feels great,” he said—but he knew he had reached his serving limit.
“We all know he’s the strongest guy,” said Binghamton pitching coach Jerome Williams, who played 11 seasons in the Majors and crossed paths with Scherzer several times.
“Last time he was locked up, pacing back and forth doing the usual Max Scherzer stuff. It may have only been four innings, but he was focused on those four innings. He prepares properly; he knows the routine and knows what he needs to do to go there and perform. And that’s the only thing I want my pitchers to see is what it takes. Look how long he’s been doing this.”
Prior to those two starts at Binghamton, Scherzer, who turns 38 in July, had not competed in his junior year since 2010 with the Toledo Mud Hens. In the meantime, he has earned three Cy Young awards, nearly 200 wins and, by the end of his contract with the Mets, close to $350 million.
The Mets gave Scherzer the highest annual salary in major league history—$43.3 million a year—in his three-year, $130 million contract on Dec. 1. 1. For eight starts, he was as dominant as ever: 5-1 with a 2.54 ERA, many strikeouts and few base runners. He is ready to return to that standard.
“Now it’s more focused on serving, so I really feel confident coming through this turn now on how I’m going to prepare for my next start,” Scherzer said. “There won’t be much time in the recovery process, so I really don’t think it will overload the obliques on this turn. This will allow me to make the next start in five days.”
Jacob de Grom, another Mets ace, was sidelined all season due to a stress reaction in his right shoulder blade. He’ll soon cross the one-year mark since his last major league appearance, but he’s had 27 shots in live practice this week and could soon be ready for his own rehab assignment.
With the firing — and the feeling that he just worked too hard last season for his puny body to fail — it seems unrealistic, at least initially, to expect a Cy Young version of deGrom when he returns.
Scherzer is different. When he returned, he returned in full. He got what he wanted in the backyard goat country, but it was only a one-night stand.
“Cool little park, nice to add another city to my list,” Scherzer said. “I hope that’s all.”