After nearly seven weeks away from the major-league mound, Max Scherzer did not need a grace period to return to dominance.
It came immediately.
Scherzer struck out the first batter he faced and continued to roll across six scoreless innings in his return from a moderate- to high-grade oblique strain that kept him out since May 18.
He finished his outing with eight straight outs as he finished with a season-high 11 strikeouts and two hits and one hit batter. Despite missing 48 days after feeling a "zing" in his side, Scherzer delivered arguably his best start of his season in his return.
The Mets ace settled for a no-decision as his team struggled to score a run themselves in the first six innings. He was replaced by Joely Rodriguez to start the seventh.
— SNY (@SNYtv) July 6, 2022
The Reds won 1-0 on a walk-off in the ninth on a sacrifice fly hit by Mike Moustakas.
Scherzer had not pitched since a matchup with the Cardinals at Citi Field when he gestured to the dugout after throwing the second pitch of an at-bat to Albert Pujols. His night ended after 87 pitches with two outs in the frame and Scherzer was diagnosed with the oblique strain.
Despite the slow start for the Mets offense, it was all encouraging signs for Scherzer in his reappearance in the rotation. Here is what Scherzer showed in his long-awaited return:
How he looked
It was a promising start for Scherzer, who needed only nine pitches to get through the first inning. He struck out leadoff hitter Jonathan India on a 2-2 fastball. Then, he got back-to-back groundball outs to cap his first of three 1-2-3 innings.
The only trouble that Scherzer ran into came in the second inning as he gave up a one-out single to Donovan Solano and hit Moustakas in the elbow in the next at-bat. Solano moved to third on a fly ball, but Scherzer was able to strike out Matt Reynolds on a fastball to come through a 23-pitch inning unscathed.
The only other baserunner that Scherzer allowed was a one-out single to Tyler Naquin in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Mets ace proceeded to strike out the next five batters in order. During the start, he passed John Smoltz for 18th all-time on the career strikeouts list, raising his total to 3,089.
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Scherzer threw three balls to only one batter over the course of his outing. That came to Reynolds in the bottom of the fifth, but Scherzer rallied back from a 3-1 count to pick up a strikeout on a 95 mph fastball.
One of the biggest questions entering the night was how much of a leash Buck Showalter would give to Scherzer.
The Mets ace had two rehab starts with Class AA Binghamton before returning to the major league mound. In his first outing on June 21, he threw 65 pitches across 3⅔ innings. In the second on a week's worth of rest on June 29, Scherzer used 80 pitches to get through 4⅔ innings.
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Despite apparent frustration with a quick hook in the dugout after six commanding innings, Showalter made the decision to pull Scherzer after 79 pitches on Tuesday night.
Old guard vs. the new
Scherzer was not the only pitcher returning from injury in Tuesday night's game.
The Reds sent out lefty Nick Lodolo, who had not pitched in more than two months with a back strain. The 24-year-old rookie, who was MLB.com's No. 42 prospect entering the season, held the Mets offense for the opening four innings.
The Mets had trouble dialing in on Lodolo's wipeout slider as he picked up four of his eight strikeouts on that pitch, including a pair against Pete Alonso. He left the game after 89 pitches following a walk to Starling Marte with two outs in the fifth.
The Mets had four batters reach scoring position against Lodolo but were unable to cash in through the first four frames. Mark Canha singled to lead off the second inning and advanced on a hit and wild pitch, but J.D. Davis struck out on a sinker and James McCann grounded out to Lodolo to end the threat.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Max Scherzer shines for Mets in return from IL vs. Reds