Max Scherzer knew after he departed the mound July 29 in Philadelphia it was likely his last time pitching in a Nationals jersey.
With the trade deadline fast approaching, his teammates kept him up to date as rumors circulated about potential landing spots for the three-time Cy Young Award winner. And with 10 years of service time and five consecutive seasons with the same team, Scherzer had a say in where that destination would be.
Instead of demanding to join a specific team, he let the Nationals know where he would accept a trade. There were certain factors at play: He wanted to stay in the National League, play in warm weather and have a chance to win. Scherzer was aware about San Diego’s interest when reports spread on Twitter, but he hadn’t gotten the call from general manager Mike Rizzo saying it was a done deal.
“The fact that Twitter was going off and I hadn’t gotten the phone call, I knew something else was probably still in the weeds,” Scherzer said. “That’s what it is. You can’t always fall for Twitter, but Twitter usually is pretty good.”
Quickly, a new suitor had emerged. Within hours, it became clear Scherzer was Los Angeles bound. The Dodgers officially traded for Scherzer and Trea Turner on the day of the deadline, ending a hectic week that Scherzer described with one word.
“Crazy,” Scherzer said, before elaborating. “Crazy is the understatement, too. It would’ve been a lot easier before kids and dogs. Now with three kids and four dogs, life’s a lot more hectic now. So, we’re picking the circus up from DC and trying to get it out to LA as quick as possible.”
The Dodgers fit the bill for all his desires. And if the sizable expectations placed upon Scherzer to help the Dodgers defend their World Series title is adding any pressure on the eight-time All-Star, he’s not letting it show ahead of his first start with his new team.
“I’m glad I’m part of an organization that wants to win and has its sights on the ultimate prize,” Scherzer said. “That’s what we play the game for, to do that. I’ve been in the league long enough to know those things don’t always happen and don’t always fall into place the way they do. It takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of team chemistry, it takes everybody playing their best baseball in October.”
Scherzer would know.
The 37-year-old won the 2019 World Series in his fifth of seven seasons with the Nationals.
“The flag’s fly forever,” Scherzer said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we play the game for, to win the World Series. We accomplished that goal. Obviously, had discussions with Mike Rizzo about the direction of the team. His words were that the roster needed to be retooled. Given where everybody was at and their contract status, he needed to give a facelift to the organization.”
The Dodgers, in need of a restock to their shorthanded rotation, were thrilled to be on the receiving end of that facelift. Scherzer has garnered a reputation as one of the more intense players in the game, but he said it’s not difficult to reset as he joins a clubhouse full of players he competed against for the last 14 years of his Major League career.
His process assimilating to the Dodger clubhouse is made easier by his familiarity and working relationship with many of the Dodger veteran players, including the perennial All-Stars he’s met throughout the years. He joined the team for the first time last weekend in Arizona.
“That was pretty cool coming in being able to give Albert Pujols a hug,” Scherzer said. “You can say that about a bunch of these other guys as well. This is an extremely talented group. I’ve gotten a chance to compete against them over the years and realize what they can bring and what this organization has done over the past handful of years and obviously what they’re capable of doing this year. It’s fun to join these guys because we have a great chance to win, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get there. Nothing’s assured yet.”
That’s why the Dodgers made the move they did. They enter Wednesday with the third-best record in the National League (64–44) but 3 ½ games behind the first-place Giants and with a roster still absorbing a number of key absences, particularly to the rotation.
Their hope is Scherzer, who will debut Wednesday against the Astros, and Turner, who is expected to fly to Los Angeles this weekend as he works his way back from the COVID-IL list, can provide a lift.
“All I can do is go out there and pitch my game,” Scherzer said.
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