PHOENIX — On any given turn through the rotation, the hypothetical is plausible enough that it is worth considering in advance.
Imagine: Max Scherzer is on the mound, absolutely dealing. The other team doesn’t have a hit and maybe hasn’t even put a runner on base. The middle-innings possibility begins to turn into late-innings drama, the anticipation and buzz building with every out, every pitch.
But his pitch count is . . . too high. So manager Buck Showalter gets stuck deciding: Leave Scherzer in for the chance at history and glory, or stick with the plan and pull him after a reasonable number of pitches?
In the event of a possible no-hitter or perfect game, Scherzer said, he won’t make it any harder for Showalter.
“I have no problems coming out if I’m on a run like that,” said Scherzer, who will face the Cardinals on Monday. “If things don’t tell you to go back out there, you don’t go back out there. You can’t be selfish. You cannot be selfish. You can’t put yourself in front of the team and your next start. That’s the first and foremost important thing. Is there wiggle room? Maybe. But a lot of times there’s not.”
Hinting he would pull a pitcher if required, Showalter said: “Knowing Max, I’d trust him on it. My philosophy? Take each one as it comes and see what’s best for your team long-term.”
The only pitcher to throw a no-hitter for one of Showalter’s teams was Jim Abbott, for the Yankees against Cleveland on Sept. 4, 1993. He threw 119 pitches.
“I would’ve kept him out there for 140,” Showalter said.
The topic became relevant again this month — and not only because Scherzer took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning, with his pitch count climbing past 90, against the Giants in his most recent start.
“Full confession,” Showalter said. “Max the other night, I was in the dugout, I was looking over at Jeremy [Hefner, the pitching coach]. I’m OK if they have a [bloop hit] somewhere here over third and we can [take Scherzer out].”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Clayton Kershaw after seven perfect innings and 80 pitches (and 13 strikeouts) in his season debut. It was his first game since finishing last season with a forearm/elbow injury. Kershaw said afterward that he was comfortable coming out of the game.
The Dodgers’ thinking: Kershaw’s health and availability for the duration of the season, including the playoffs, is vastly more important than that one game, no matter what he could have accomplished.
Cutting off Kershaw was the obvious call, in Scherzer’s view.
“Kershaw did the right thing. They did the right thing,” he said. “He’s coming off injury, he’s building back up, it’s the first start. You don’t get to go smoke yourself.”
That it was the right decision, the only decision, doesn’t mean it is an easy decision.
“It is a hard call, because at a passing glance it doesn’t make sense,” Scherzer said. “But when you live this and have your arm hurt, it becomes a lot more clear why you make some of those decisions.”
There are plenty of variables, Scherzer allowed, that help determine the amount of wiggle room. He promises honesty with his manager and pitching coach when discussing how much longer he can last in a start, and he said he maintains that guarantee even under potentially historic circumstances.
That would be true even if he were chasing a perfect game, he said. He has never thrown one of those. His resume does include a pair of no-hitters, both in 2015: June 20 against the Pirates and Oct. 3 against the Mets. Those required a reasonable 106 pitches and 109 pitches, respectively.
“For me in that situation, you ask what the schedule is. It’s pitch count, schedule, where you’re at in the year, what’s going on. It’s just a different type of conversation,” Scherzer said. “There’s a lot that goes into it. You’re not going to just crazy blow through a pitch count if you’re not ready for it.”