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Scherzer sizzles in big league debut

Scherzer sizzles in big league debut

PHOENIX -- Max Scherzer was just looking to get his debut out of the way when he took the Chase Field mound Tuesday night.

Instead, he set the baseball world buzzing with a debut in which he retired all 13 Astros hitters he faced -- seven on strikeouts -- thanks in large part to a fastball that reached 98 mph.

"I just went out there and tried to do my thing," Scherzer said after the D-backs' 6-4 loss to the Astros.

When the bullpen phone rang with word that he was coming into the game, Scherzer was relieved and not nervous to finally get in a game.

Called up from Triple-A Tucson on Sunday to begin his Major League career, Scherzer warmed up Monday night only to be told to sit back down while closer Brandon Lyon finished off another D-backs win.

After getting the call Tuesday, Scherzer turned to bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock to double-check the scouting report on the first hitter he would face, Jack Cassel. Sure, it was the other team's pitcher, but Scherzer prides himself on preparation, so he left nothing to chance.

In fact, Scherzer told pitching coach Bryan Price that he had visualized making his debut many times and factored in the added adrenaline he expected to have, as well as the fact he'd be facing hitters he'd watched on television.

He jogged in from the left-field bullpen, took the ball from manger Bob Melvin and began his warmup tosses. When he was done, he went to the back of the mound, took a very deep breath and reminded himself to slow the game down and to throw strike one.

It's the same thing he told himself on the mound in high school, throughout his standout college career at Missouri and during his rapid one-year rise through the Arizona farm system after being selected in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.

With four runs in against starter Edgar Gonzalez in the third inning, two outs and a runner at second, Scherzer went right at Cassel. It took him six pitches, all fastballs, to get Cassel swinging and each seemed better than the previous one. Measured by mph they went 92, 93, 96, 95, 96 and 96.

Inning over, he walked quickly toward the dugout, face stoic until ace Brandon Webb finally said something that made him smile.

"I wanted to get it over," Scherzer said. "That was the main thing. Last night I almost got in the game, and I had to sit back down ... I just wanted to get a game in. I wanted to get my debut over so I could just move on from it ... really go out there and just pitch. When the phone rang and they told me I was in, it was a relief just to go out there and pitch and not have to worry about all the other things. For me, that's what I enjoy is pitching."

Scherzer retired all 13 Astros hitters he faced, seven by strikeout, before being removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh. It was a continuation of the dominance he showed at Tucson, where he struck out 38 and allowed just three earned runs in 23 innings over four starts.

When the D-backs needed an extra arm in their bullpen, they turned to Scherzer not just because of his stats, but the way the 23-year-old from St. Louis went about compiling them. He didn't forget the club's instructions to work on honing his slider and changeup when they optioned him this spring, and he balanced that with trying to get results.

"I really took that to heart and really tried to focus on keeping the ball down when I was down in the Minors, and just continue to work on throwing my secondary stuff for strikes," he said.

While he may have thrown only 10 or so offspeed pitches Tuesday, he mixed them in enough to keep Astros hitters guessing.

"When you've got a guy throwing 98, and he has a nice, nice slider to go with it ... he kept the ball down," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "And when he needed that extra, he went and got it. That's a pretty good arm there. I tip my hat to him."

"A lot of guys would come in and they would nibble and be a little bit nervous about contact," Price said. "But he went right after them, and that impressed me more than anything. He understands how the game works. He trusts his stuff, he knows it's as good as it needs to be and he pitches with it. He has an understanding of how the game works, it doesn't work by pitching behind and trying to get yourself back from bad counts."

Scherzer's seemingly effortless delivery and slightly lower arm angle make his live fastball seem even faster as it jumps on hitters. There has been plenty of debate with the D-backs organization as to whether he's better suited to be a starter or a closer.

Given his dominant performance, it stands to reason the D-backs may choose to add him to the rotation in place of Gonzalez, who struggled in his start Tuesday. Melvin declined to weigh in on that subject after the game saying, "We'll take a look at it later."

Back in the clubhouse, assistant athletic trainer Dave Edwards flipped Scherzer a baseball.

"Your first strikeout," Edwards told him.

As Scherzer started to walk out of the clubhouse, he turned on his cell phone and immediately it began beeping with messages.

"Sounds like 30," he said just before embracing family in the tunnel behind the clubhouse.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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