DETROIT — Max Scherzer's curveball isn't what it used to be, and that's a good thing.
Now in the second year of a three-year project, Scherzer's curveball is evolving into a complete pitch. He's still not there with it yet, but it's a pitch Scherzer is throwing with more conviction.
"It's really fine-tuning my curveball and getting more consistent with that pitch," Scherzer said. "You can have it, but to really get a pitch it takes three years to learn it and get consistent with it."
The mindset is there now, but that wasn't always the case. It took dedication and countless hours of practice for Scherzer to begin to trust his curveball. Typically, a pitcher doesn't just pick up another pitch and take it into the next game. Even at the major league level, Scherzer needed a new thought process and level of patience while learning how to throw the curveball.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones has been instrumental in getting Scherzer to the point where his mind and mechanics are in sync with each other. During bullpen sessions prior to his last start on July 9 against the Dodgers, Scherzer said the consistency and placement of his curveball is now noticeably different from the start of the season, which is encouraging.
"I'm working with Jonesy on that and getting a feel, mechanics and what I need to feel," Scherzer said. "Jonesy and I are in the pen working on that in between starts. The mindset and just all the little things that it takes to be able to execute pitches over and over."
Knowing when to put the curveball aside has been a learning curve in its own right, though, and sometimes the adjustments have been better saved for the bullpen rather than on the mound. Scherzer said when it's not "there," it's best to just come back to it later rather than rush the process.
At the same time though, Scherzer said just knowing that every time he throws the curveball, whether it's during practice or in a game, it's a chance for him to sharpen that pitch.
"I've really been trying to get a feel for that curveball," Scherzer said. "Being able to throw for a strike when I need to and be able to take it out of the zone or just below the zone when I need to as well."
The curveball may not be Scherzer's "pride and joy" — that's his fastball — but if it results in a strikeout, he said, he loves that pitch just as much as the next one. Going into the All-Star break with a curveball he now has confidence in throwing means it's one less thing Scherzer has to worry about in the second half of the season.
Fine-tuning isn't something that will come overnight, but the minutia of what turns a good pitch into a great one has become a matter of time and patience instead of force and power. As July transitions into August and September, the postseason lights get brighter. The curveball fans see at the end of the season will be very different than the one they saw on April 1, and that suits Scherzer just fine.
"This is when everything gets turned up and you get the playoffs in sight because the best baseball in the world is the playoffs, in October," Scherzer said. "Once you have a taste of it, all you want to do is go back."