TUCSON, Ariz. — Thirteen up, 13 down.
That’s how Max Scherzer’s major league debut went last April 29. Arizona’s righthander set down every Houston Astro he faced, seven by strikeout.
No one in modern baseball history had retired that many consecutive batters to open his career. By the time the outing was over, anyone could see that Scherzer had the stuff — a crackling mid-90s fastball, slider and changeup — to pitch in the major leagues.
Now he wants to build a career.
“My dream wasn’t getting here,” Scherzer said. “My dream was staying here. I still have a lot of work to keep that dream going.”
The 24-year-old Missourian flashed his potential in a solid 2008 season, which he split between Phoenix and Tucson, the Diamondbacks’ former Triple-A affiliate.
Scherzer lost all four of his big league decisions but had a 3.05 ERA in 16 games, including seven starts. He struck out 66 and walked 21 in 56 innings.
Scherzer, the Diamondbacks’ first-round draft pick in 2006, was so impressive that the Diamondbacks named him to their starting rotation over the winter. He’s expected to fill the fifth slot, behind Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Doug Davis and new acquisition Jon Garland.
First, though, the Diamondbacks have to make sure Scherzer is healthy.
Scherzer threw off the mound for the first time this spring Monday and reported no ill effects.
Scherzer has been slowed in spring training by tendinitis in his right shoulder, but the fastballer held nothing back in his brief session.
“Thirty-five pitches and he was airing it out from the very beginning,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He was really chomping at the bit.”
Melvin said Scherzer would have a few more bullpen sessions before facing any live batters.
Given the Diamondbacks’ early schedule, he wouldn’t be needed right away and could start the season on the disabled list.
“It’s an option,” Melvin said. “We don’t want to push. We want to make sure he gets the proper amount of bullpens, whether it’s five or six or whatever like everybody else. ... If we did have to go with four (starters) early on, we could.”
No date has been set for his first spring training start.
“We want to be really smart about this and not ask him to do more than he needs to do to get ready too fast,” pitching coach Bryan Price said.
Scherzer battled shoulder fatigue last season, and the Diamondbacks are handling him cautiously. They plan to limit him to about 170 innings.
Scherzer has been cast as an heir to the franchise’s long line of pitching stalwarts, which includes Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Webb and Haren.
Scherzer’s debut against the Astros only added to the expectations. And it gave Scherzer, who already had plenty of confidence, the sense that he could excel in the majors.
His next step is becoming consistent and learning how to adjust to hitters after they’ve adjusted to him.
“I have the confidence to know that I can succeed,” Scherzer said on Friday morning before the Diamondbacks worked out. “Now I’m going to be facing different challenges this year that I’m going to have to tackle.
“I’m going to have to learn on the job again,” Scherzer said. “I’m going to have to face hitters more than one time. I’ve faced this guy 10 times. How do I get him out the 11th time? Those are challenges I’m looking forward to.”
Price said Scherzer’s mental approach stands out, perhaps even more than his repertoire, which he’s still developing.
“He looks at the game a lot differently than most, in that I haven’t noticed any outward fear or reluctance,” Price said. “It’s almost as if he’s playing a game and the opponent is unimportant. He understands what he needs to do to be successful.”