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The Strike Zone

A perfect 10: Scherzer's dominance makes up for loss of Sanchez on Tigers' staff

Max Scherzer, TigersMax Scherzer is the first pitcher in 16 years to start a season 10-0. (AP)

On Monday, the same day the Tigers placed Anibal Sanchez on the disabled list due to a shoulder strain, Max Scherzer furthered his won-loss record to 10-0, making him the first pitcher to start the season with such a spotless mark since Roger Clemens in 1997, and the first Detroit pitcher to do so since 1909.

We'll skip the sermon on pitcher wins, because MLB.com's Jason Beck touched upon it in his coverage:

Even Scherzer, an advanced stats fan who calls wins and losses "flukey," had to appreciate that kind of company.

"Yeah, you have to savor this a little bit because of the history of this organization," Scherzer said. "It's special to be 10-0. But at the end of the day, I don't measure my success on being 10-0. I measure my success on everything else I do on the mound."

Scherzer did plenty besides run his record to 10-0, a mark that put him in the company of one Wabash George Mullin, who began the 1909 season with 11 straight wins for the Tigers en route to an AL-best 29 wins (and just eight losses). Scherzer, a 28-year-old righty, yielded seven hits over six innings to the Orioles, allowing just one run — a solo homer by Chris Davis — making for his sixth quality start in a row and his 10th on the season, tied for sixth in the league. The seven hits were the most he had allowed since April 24, 10 starts ago. His 10 strikeouts marked the fifth time he has reached double digits this season, tying Yu Darvish for the major league lead. Here's the highlight reel of his night from MLB.com:

Overall, Scherzer has a 3.08 ERA in 96 1/3 innings. He ranks second in the league in total strikeouts (116) and fewest hits per nine innings (6.0), a reflection of both his defensive support (.256 BABIP) and the difficulty of batters connecting for solid contact against his high-velocity arsenal. He's third in strikeout rate (10.8 per nine), sixth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.8) and seventh in Wins Above Replacement (2.6, via Baseball-Reference.com). As he may be aware given his acknowledgement of the flukiness of wins, the 6.0 runs per start he has received from his teammates is in a virtual tie with Jeremy Hellickson for third among AL ERA qualifiers, behind Bartolo Colon (6.4) and Jason Hammel (6.3).

Given Scherzer's accomplishments, he's sure to be in consideration for a spot on the AL All-Star team, which will be managed by Detroit skipper Jim Leyland, who faces tough choices when it comes to the Tigers' front four starters. Ranked according to WAR:

PitcherW-LERA IP HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BBWAR
Max Scherzer10-03.0896.10.72.210.84.82.6
Anibal Sanchez6-42.7681.20.42.511.14.42.4
Justin Verlander8-43.4187.00.52.910.43.61.9
Doug Fister6-53.2192.20.31.47.45.41.8

Alas, Sanchez will have to get healthy in order to claim his much-deserved spot on the squad. Scratched from his June 9 start due to shoulder tightness, he lasted just 3 2/3 innings against the Twins on Saturday, and averaged just 89.4 mph with his four-seam fastball according to BrooksBaseball.net, 3.5 mph lower than his season average. An MRI taken on Sunday showed no structural damage in his shoulder, so the team is hopeful he'll be ready to return when eligible at the end of the month. Even so, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Tigers bring him back more slowly, particularly considering that they just signed him to a five-year, $80 million deal this past winter. Sanchez has made that deal look good so far via the league's top strikeout rate and eighth-best ERA.

Taking his place will be rookie Jose Alvarez, a 24-year-old lefty with a 2.78 ERA and 9.3 strikeouts per nine through 81 innings at Triple-A Toledo, his first exposure to the level. Alvarez filled in for Sanchez on June 9 and threw six innings of one-run ball against the Indians in his major league debut, no-hitting them for 4 2/3 innings before Ryan Raburn connected for a solo homer. Based on that audition and his minor league performance, it appears that Detroit prefers using him as a rotation patch while leaving fellow 24-year-old southpaw Drew Smyly in place as an increasingly important bullpen cog given Jose Valverde's recent shakiness. Smyly pitched three scoreless innings in relief of Scherzer on Monday night to pick up his second save of the season; he now has a 1.94 ERA and 9.1 strikeouts per nine in 41 2/3 innings.

Sanchez wasn't the only Tiger hitting the disabled list on Monday. Starting catcher Alex Avila was placed there as well due to a bruised left forearm from being hit by Brian Duensing's 93 mph sinker on Sunday. Though he collected two hits before leaving the game due to the injury, Avila's hitting an anemic .172/.271/.288, well off his previous career numbers (.261/.359/.432), so perhaps he can use the time on the sidelines to rediscover his old form.

In the meantime, backup Brayan Pena (.283/.309/.391) will share duties with Triple-A callup Bryan Holaday, a 25-year-old 2010 sixth-round draft pick currently hitting .259/.317/.386 at Toledo. So long as the rest of the rotation doesn't fall apart, the absences of Sanchez and Avila shouldn't be enough to derail the Tigers, who at 39-29 have a five-game lead in the AL Central.
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