Sparkling Scherzer goes long in win
Right-hander hurls 7 2/3 scoreless innings vs. Giants
PHOENIX -- The evolution of Max Scherzer has been on display all season, and Thursday afternoon, the right-handed pitcher ventured into uncharted territory.
He resurfaced with a career day and as the victor in a 2-1 win against the Giants at Chase Field to snap the D-backs' three-game losing streak.
"When we drafted him, he had a plus-fastball and the question was his secondary stuff," D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's starting to answer those questions at this level. He's able to throw in some changeups and he's able to mix in a slider and he's not relying solely on being a fastball pitcher."
In his previous start, Scherzer allowed three hits in five scoreless innings against San Diego. On Thursday against the Giants, he gave up three hits and struck out six in a career-high 7 2/3 innings.
In part because the notion of pounding the strike zone has been reinforced to the pitching staff, Scherzer threw a career-high 80 strikes in a career-best 116-pitch outing Thursday. The pitch count is significant when you consider he averaged around 100 pitches per game in his previous 11 outings. Scherzer's previous season high was 109 pitches on May 21 against Florida.
"We are seeing the maturation of a good Major League pitcher, and when he's under control and in the strike zone, he's a difficult guy to face," Hinch said.
Scoreless after two innings, D-backs right fielder Justin Upton drove a pitch from Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez over the wall in right-center field to give the D-backs a 1-0 lead.
In the seventh inning, D-backs left fielder Eric Byrnes reached base on a sinking line drive to the outfield off reliever Brandon Medders and advanced to second base when Giants right fielder Nate Schierholtz did not field the ball cleanly. Upton followed with a single up the middle to score Byrnes and extend the D-backs' lead to 2-0.
The afternoon belonged to Scherzer but he was not the only young D-backs player to show progress. In the third inning of Wednesday's 6-4 loss, center fielder Chris Young was charged with a two-run error when he didn't catch a deep drive to center off the bat of Giants left fielder Andres Torres. A day later, the play was ruled a triple.
Young made the official scorer a non-factor Thursday, making a pair of nifty running catches in the third and fourth innings. He also hit two doubles. Young is currently hitting .184.
"He continues to contribute and that's the key word," Hinch said. "Obviously, the defensive plays go without saying and he's been doing that with little problem. For him to contribute on both sides of the ball was good to see."
As for Scherzer, he cruised through seven innings but he gave up a single to Randy Winn to start the eighth. He was replaced by Tony Pena after hitting Giants catcher Bengie Molina with a pitch with two outs in the inning and watched the remainder of the game from the clubhouse.
"I wanted to get him through that threshold of his development," Hinch said. "He's going to be pitching deep into games but when he hit Molina, I didn't want to leave him out there too long."
It will be interesting to see how Scherzer's arm responds in his next outing Wednesday against the Royals. Scherzer said it wasn't uncommon for him to throw 120 pitches in a game while at Missouri and once threw as many as 135 pitches but that was on seven days of rest.
The D-backs have a day off Monday, giving Scherzer an extra day of rest before he takes the mound in Kansas City.
"I've always thought I can start," Scherzer said. "I knew I had the three pitches. It was just a matter of developing the consistency that goes with it. For me, it's just about going out there and executing pitches."
The game was not without drama. In the ninth inning, D-backs reliever Chad Qualls gave up a run but struck out Giants shortstop Edgar Renteria to end the game.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.