In Year Two with Nationals, Scherzer feels like mentor, geezer

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WASHINGTON (AP) Max Scherzer sees himself as something of a mentor as he heads into his second season with the Washington Nationals.

He also sees himself as something of a geezer.

“It feels different in Year 2, because I’m realizing how much older I am than all these other guys. At 31, you feel pretty old in that clubhouse when you’ve got 23-year-olds in there that barely even know the O.J. trial even happened,” Scherzer said Friday with a hearty chuckle. “That’s the stuff I’m dealing with.”

He spoke to reporters at Nationals Park before Washington beat the Minnesota Twins 4-3 Friday night in the first of a pair of exhibition games that are serving as a final tuneup before the regular season begins.

A mix of boos and cheers greeted Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon when he entered in the ninth for a 1-2-3 save, his first appearance on the Washington mound since he infamously grabbed eventual NL MVP Bryce Harper by the throat during a dugout dustup in September, resulting in a suspension.

Washington left fielder Jayson Werth had trouble with the first two fly balls hit his way Friday, and Ben Revere delivered a triple and double in his first two Nationals Park at-bats as a member of the home team. Harper drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and later doubled.

Scherzer will be the starter on opening day for the Nationals when they play at the Atlanta Braves on Monday.

The last time Scherzer took the mound in a game that counted, he threw a no-hitter against the New York Mets on Oct. 3, while striking out a franchise-record 17 batters. That made him only the sixth pitcher in major league history to toss a pair of no-nos in the same season – he also did it against the Pittsburgh Pirates in June.

The right-hander signed a $210 million, seven-year contract as a free agent before last season, then went 14-12 with a 2.79 ERA. Still, he lamented an increase in homers allowed and vowed to work on that.

“I really like where I’m going into the season right now, where all my offspeed pitches are at. I feel like with all of them, I’m able to throw them for strikes, and when I need to expand (the zone) with them, I’m able to right now,” Scherzer said Friday.

“From a stuff standpoint, I really like where everything is moving. Now it’s just a matter of going out there and making sure I attack the zone and work ahead in the count,” he said. “That’s easier said than done. I know that. If I want to be successful, I’ve got to do it.”

He plays a role for the Nationals off the field, too.

New manager Dusty Baker called Scherzer “our energy guy.”

Rotation-mate Stephen Strasburg credits Scherzer with helping improve between-start preparation.

The way Scherzer “does his homework on hitters” rubbed off, Strasburg said.

“Not to knock anybody else I played with, but he was kind of one of the first guys who really made it a point to prepare, go over a scouting report, and not just rely on your stuff,” Strasburg said. “So that was good – I learned a lot from that.”