Max Scherzer, and the case for the DH in the National League

baseball600Max Scherzer, with his Nats up 2-1, led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a single off Toronto starter Maco Estrada.

The hit extended Scherzer’s modest five-game hitting streak, which itself is no fluke, if only judging from his first at-bat Tuesday night, an epic 10-pitch duel that featured four two-strike foul balls.

Nationals TV color commentator F.P. Santangelo gushed over Scherzer the hitter, citing the ABs Tuesday and the hitting streak as evidence to buttress one of his favorite causes, pigeonholing the notion that the National League should join the rest of baseball in allowing for a designated hitter to bat in place of the pitcher.

Fast forward for a moment to the top of the sixth, the Nats now up 3-1, the third run coming when Scherzer scored on a Tyler Moore sac fly. Scherzer got the first two Blue Jays out in the sixth, but was clearly tiring, though still in the 90-pitch range.

Danny Valencia doubled to extend the inning, then Scherzer walked pinch-hitter Justin Smoak, bringing up eight-hole hitter Kevin Pillar, who had homered in the second off Scherzer.

Scherzer hung a 1-1 slider, and Pillar made him pay, pulling it down the left-field line.

Cue up F.P., who immediately attributes the homer to fatigue, though of note the fatigue that Santangelo attributed to Scherzer was from the pitcher’s last start, a 3-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on May 28.

F.P. kept harping on the 13 strikeouts in the win as the reason that Scherzer was tired Tuesday night, which is all well and good, if you assume that Scherzer must have thrown a lot of pitches in that game to get to 13 strikeouts, except that he didn’t.

The box from that game had him at 108 pitches in Chicago, and he registered 101 in Tuesday’s loss.

So why was he so obviously fatigued then?

Let’s go back to that fifth inning, and the leadoff single. Yunel Escobar followed with a walk, then Ian Desmond struck out on a 3-2 pitch for out number one.

Bryce Harper was next, and he reached on an error on a play that ended with a discussion with Jays’ manager John Gibbons and the umpiring crew.

Then we get to the Moore sac fly, on a 3-2 pitch.

And then the next hitter, Clint Robinson, inexplicably popped out to left on the first pitch of his at-bat, meaning Scherzer got to sit for maybe a minute after hitting, standing, running, et cetera, for 15 minutes.

Santangelo, repeating the oft-used argument from the anti-DH set, extolled the virtues of having pitchers hit, citing the chapter and verse on strategy being different, the art of the double switch, having to take pitchers out sooner, the value of having a pitcher like Scherzer who can hit close to his weight, and so on.

How about this one for having a DH hit for the Scherzers of the world: the Nats aren’t paying Scherzer $30 million a year to hit .200 and run the bases every fifth trip. His value to the Nationals is as an ace with a sub-2.00 ERA who gives you seven innings every start.

Except for Tuesday night, when he ran out of gas in the sixth at 101 pitches because he’d run the bases the entire bottom of the fifth.

Maybe there’s something quaint and homey to having the pitcher not only pitch, but also hit, bunt, run the bases, do everything the other guys do, as some like to put it. Which is akin to arguing that you should have to use the cleanup hitter for an inning on the mound so that he has to do everything, too.

Yeah, F.P., we’ll miss seeing pitchers hit, and that will be a travesty, but it’s same-level travesty as the one that will come when the NBA finally wisens up and bans the Hack-a-Shaq, and we have to yearn for the days of watching DeAndre Jordan valiantly trying to make free throws around his successes at rebounding, blocking shots and playing interior D.

Scherzer’s early flameout Tuesday night is case in point for why the NL needs to join the modern age of baseball and adopt the DH.

– Column by Chris Graham

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