DETROIT -- Most people forget their Memorial Day weekend by the Fourth of July. Max Scherzer remembers his from two years ago.
Scherzer has a detailed memory for pitching tweaks. He struck out 14 Oakland A's over 5 2/3 innings that day in his return from Triple-A Toledo and looked like the highly heralded young pitcher the Tigers had acquired the previous winter.
To many, it's the point when Scherzer became a front-line pitcher, starting him on a roll to go 11-7 with a 2.46 ERA and 158 strikeouts the rest of the year.
"I don't look at the results as what got me going," Scherzer said Sunday. "I look at it mechanically, that game got me going. I felt like I was able to lock in mechanically and repeat my delivery from start to start, and that allowed my stuff to play with all three pitches."
Scherzer has spent the past year-plus trying to get to that point again. Whether Sunday's 15-strikeout performance can be this year's version will be seen on the coming road trip.
"If he continues to repeat the delivery he's using right now, yeah," pitching coach Jeff Jones said. "I think he can definitely get on a roll."
|"If they're not good, we're in trouble. That's the way it is."|
-- Manager Jim Leyland,|
on Max Scherzer
and Rick Porcello
"I want to be somebody on this team that can step up and help this team win," Scherzer said. "I know I'm capable of it, and I know what it takes to have success in this league."
While Scherzer was quietly preparing Sunday morning, Rick Porcello was on the other side of the clubhouse talking about much the same thing. The only difference was that the young sinkerballer is coming off the low road, having thrown 100 pitches in four innings his previous start, thanks to four errors behind him and several deep counts against him.
"Having ups and downs, being on the downside of things and then being able to come back from that, it reassures yourself you know you're able to do it," Porcello explained. "You've done it a couple times before, and there's no reason you can't do it again."
Both Scherzer and Porcello have thrown brilliant outings in their fourth seasons in a Major League rotation, and both have had days that left manager Jim Leyland scratching his head. Fittingly, the Tigers had back-to-back starts from them last week in which they threw around 100 pitches without getting an out in the fifth inning. Then Scherzer went out and joined Justin Verlander in dominating the Pirates.
That's why one of Leyland's first statements about Scherzer on Sunday was that he responded to the challenge.
"The challenge was that he and Rick have got to do better," Leyland said. "Everybody's been talking about that. There's nothing wrong with that. It's simple: They have to do better, and he did better. ...
"And I've also said that [Scherzer] is a 15-game winner and Porcello's a 14-game winner. They will do better, and I expect them to do better. These guys are pretty good Major League pitchers."
Even with Verlander as tough as ever, the Tigers need Scherzer and Porcello if they're going to build on last year. They had their ups and downs, but both had their ups during the late-season run that won Detroit the American League Central crown. While Verlander won AL MVP Award and AL Cy Young Award with a 24-5 record, and a 25-9 team record in his games, the Tigers went 21-10 in games Porcello started, and 21-12 in Scherzer's starts, despite ERAs of 4.75 and 4.43, respectively.
Their pitching has been better than that, and both began working out earlier last offseason to try to get into midseason form sooner. Both had their moments, but not their stretches.
Even before Sunday, Scherzer lead the league in strikeouts per nine innings. He's the first Tiger with a 15-strikeout game since 1972. Scherzer was also the first AL pitcher since 2004 to throw 119 pitches in a game without getting through the fifth inning last month.
"I've had good stuff over the past month," Scherzer said. "I just haven't been as good with my location. I realize in this league -- I don't care what you've got -- you have to be able to locate the ball."
With help from Jones, Scherzer looked over footage from 2010 and tweaked his mechanics. Yet he had a far easier time changing it out of the windup than with runners on base. Scherzer can talk pitching mechanics to the most technical detail, but that doesn't make it easy to do.
"To be inconsistent so far this season, I always believe the next start I'm always going to do it, I'm always going to go out there and give our team a chance to win," Scherzer said.
So does Porcello, who has had his share of extra work as well. His challenge last year was keeping his sinker down consistently. When Jones changed Porcello's delivery to bring his hands over his head, he gained some much-needed velocity. Porcello's changeup, catcher Alex Avila said, has been outstanding. Then last start, he didn't have his slider and paid for it.
"He's 23 years old," Leyland said. "For me, Rick Porcello should basically be a four-pitch guy. Sinker, four-seam up, slider and changeup. If you got four pitches, you should be able to win. And he can win. He's shown he can win."
Porcello's next start Tuesday at Cleveland will not only begin the season's first series between the two AL Central rivals, it will also start the Tigers' three-city, 10-game road trip. Verlander will be the headliner Thursday in Cleveland and Tuesday in Boston, but Scherzer and Porcello will start four of the other nine games.
"Those are our horses," Leyland said. "They're good. And they have to be good for us to be good. It's that simple. If they're not good, we're in trouble. That's the way it is."