Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer closing in on wrong kind of history at the plate

Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer grounds out against the San Diego Padres on Sept. 12.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Max Scherzer, somehow, might be peaking on the mound.

At age 37, he’s a front-runner to win his fourth Cy Young Award with three weeks remaining in his 14th major league season. He became the 19th pitcher to reach 3,000 career strikeouts and nearly threw a perfect game Sunday. In eight starts as a Dodger, he’s held opponents to five earned runs with 72 strikeouts and five walks over 51 innings. He was named National League player of the week on Monday after recording 22 strikeouts without a walk over 16 scoreless innings in his last two starts.

He may go down as the best deadline acquisition in major league history.


But there’s a blemish gnawing at him on the other end, in the batter’s box, that he hasn’t been able to erase since arriving in Los Angeles. Scherzer hasn’t reached base in his 56 plate appearances this season. He’s 0 for 52 with three sacrifice bunts, one sacrifice fly, 23 strikeouts and one RBI in his 27 starts. He’s approaching history.

Wei-Yin Chen set the major league record for most plate appearances without reaching base on a hit, walk or hit by pitch over an entire season with 49 in 2016. Scherzer likely has three starts to avoid breaking the mark.

The combination of Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw is capable of leading the Dodgers to a World Series, something Trevor Bauer has yet to achieve.

Sept. 13, 2021

“The baseball gods are laughing at me right now,” Scherzer said last week.

Chen was never a good hitter in the majors, even by pitcher standards. The left-hander went seven for 103 (.068) in eight seasons. His zero-for-the-season wasn’t surprising.

But Scherzer has been one of the better hitting pitchers since crossing over to the National League to play for the Washington Nationals in 2015. He entered this season ranked sixth in batting average (.193) and eighth in on-base percentage (.221) among 48 active pitchers with at least 200 career plate appearances.

In 2016, he tallied 12 RBIs. In 2017, he clubbed his only home run — a three-run shot — with a sore neck that forced him to exit his start in the second inning. In 2018, he batted .243 with a .545 OPS.

The production was the result of Scherzer’s work. He takes his pride in his hitting. He clocked in the hours to produce competitive at-bats in Washington. But he said this year has been different after not hitting in 2020, when MLB implemented the designated hitter universally.

He said he was hitting well in spring training. He thought his swings early in the season were good and he just encountered some bad luck. Then nagging leg injuries surfaced, limiting his time in the batting cage, and the slump spiraled out of control.

Clayton Kershaw, pitching for the first time in more than two months, holds the Diamondbacks to one run and four hits over 50 pitches in a 5-1 Dodgers win.

Sept. 13, 2021


“I wasn’t able to get in the cage, lost rhythm, and then we’ve been in this free fall ever since,” Scherzer said. “So, it’s unfortunate.”

On Monday, Scherzer watched Clayton Kershaw, a fellow three-time Cy Young Award winner and future Hall of Famer, leg out a single on a slow roller between first and second base in his only plate appearance after two months on the injured list. A camera caught Scherzer in the Dodgers dugout react to his new teammate’s infield hit with faux anger. He released his frustration to Trea Turner. He mimicked Kershaw’s short swing. Walker Buehler watched with a smile.

Next year, Scherzer, wherever he signs as a free agent, won’t have to worry about hitting if MLB permanently adopts the universal designated hitter, as expected. But Scherzer was never paid to hit. He’s paid to pitch, and he’s pitching better than anyone else in the majors since he was acquired to replace Trevor Bauer in the Dodgers’ rotation.

“It’d be really easy for me to get mad, upset about this, but when I get to the park, I’m here to win,” Scherzer said. “Yeah, it stinks I’m not getting a hit, but, guess what, if the other guys are scoring runs then my job is literally to shut down the other team. We can win ballgames. I don’t want to say I’m going to accept it, but I can’t get frustrated by it.”