A look at Max Scherzer’s insane dominance over Tigers since leaving Detroit

Scherzer, Verlander scheduled to pitch at Comerica Park this week

American League All-Star Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers talks with National League All-Star Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals prior to the 87th MLB All-Star Game at Petco Park on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Brace Hemmelgarn, 2016 Getty Images)

DETROIT – When Max Scherzer takes the mound tonight against the Detroit Tigers, it will be only his third start against his former team, and the second at Comerica Park.

Scherzer and former (also current) rotation mate Justin Verlander are both scheduled to start this week in Detroit, the former returning from a sticky substance suspension and the latter from an injury.

Verlander has faced the Tigers four times in three seasons (there was no inter-division play in 2020, and Verlander missed all of 2021) since being traded, but matchups with Scherzer have been much more rare.

Scherzer, who won the 2013 AL Cy Young Award in Detroit, hasn’t faced the Tigers often because he’s spent the second half of his career in the National League -- first with the Washington Nationals, briefly with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and now with the New York Mets.

But he did toe the rubber twice against the Tigers while in Washington.

Historic 2016 matchup

On May 11, 2016, Scherzer and the Nationals hosted a Tigers team hovering just below .500 and planning to compete for a playoff spot.

The result was perhaps the most dominant start of Scherzer’s career: nine innings, two runs, and 20 (yes, twenty!) strikeouts.

Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks at the 20 K on the board for Max Scherzer's MLB record tying strikeouts against the Detroit Tigers at Nationals Park on May 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. (2016 Getty Images)

Scherzer struck out Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, James McCann, and Anthony Gose three times each. He whiffed Justin Upton twice and Jose Iglesias, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jordan Zimmermann (remember when pitchers used to hit?) once apiece.

J.D. Martinez and Iglesias both hit solo home runs off of Scherzer, and Victor Martinez went 3-for-4 with a trio of singles. Detroit’s only other hit was an Upton double.

Zimmermann allowed three runs over seven innings against his longtime team, but that was enough for Scherzer to pull out the victory (though it took him 119 pitches, including a ridiculous 96 strikes).

By the way, Scherzer went 0-for-3 at the plate, but he struck out 20 fewer times than the Tigers.

First return to Comerica Park

The most recent battle between Scherzer and the Tigers came while the Nationals were hurtling toward a World Series title and the Tigers were plummeting into irrelevance.

Scherzer returned to Comerica Park for the first time on June 30, 2019. He started a Sunday afternoon game in front of 21,052 fans.

The red-hot Nationals had won 21 of 30 games after starting the season 19-31 to climb back to .500 before visiting Detroit. The teams split the first two games, and Scherzer squared off against Zimmermann once again in the rubber match.

Scherzer technically wasn’t as dominant this time, but it was close. He allowed just one run on four hits while striking out 14 batters across eight innings.

Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning during a MLB game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on June 30, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (2019 Getty Images)

Brandon Dixon hit a solo home run off of Scherzer in the bottom of the seventh inning to briefly tie the game at one apiece, but the Nationals responded with an Anthony Rendon blast in the top of the eighth. They went on to win the game 2-1.

Six Tigers batters struck out twice. Niko Goodrum hit a double off of Scherzer, but the offense couldn’t muster much else.

Scherzer threw 115 pitches, including 86 strikes.

Final thoughts

So, in his two starts against the Tigers since leaving as a free agent in 2015, Scherzer has struck out 34 batters in 17 innings. He’s allowed three runs (all on solo homers), 10 hits, and no walks.

The 38-year-old doesn’t look nearly as dominant so far in four starts this season -- walking more batters, averaging less than a strikeout per inning, and struggling to go deep in games. He hasn’t made a full start since April 10, so he’s not likely to throw 110+ pitches this matchup.

But Scherzer is an intense competitor. There’s no doubt the way his free agency was handled by the Tigers motivates him when he peers over his glove at the Old English D.

Scherzer and Verlander might have questions surrounding their age and injuries, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them dominate against the league’s worst offense this week.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.