clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Max Scherzer and Jake Arrieta are having a Cy Young showdown, and Matt Wieters has caught them both

Wieters has a unique view of the matchup, having caught both Arrieta and Scherzer during his career.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — Out of the the tens of thousands of eyeballs focused on Tuesday night’s battle between NL Cy Young winners Jake Arrieta and Max Scherzer, none will be more familiar with what they’re seeing than the pair that belong to Nationals catcher Matt Wieters.

Wieters, who is batting seventh Tuesday night, has had the privilege of catching both aces— Arrieta with the Orioles organization from 2008 to 2013 and Scherzer for the last three months in D.C. Scherzer, who is a prime candidate for his third Cy Young award thanks to a 2.09 ERA and 12.1 K/9 in 107.2 innings so far this year, has impressed Wieters in the short time he has caught him.

“A lot of guys have a competitive edge out on the mound, but [Scherzer’s] just takes it to an increasing level as the game goes on,” Wieters said. “There’s zero percent quit when he’s on the mound, which is impressive to see. Especially in a day and age where there’s so much about pitch counts and keeping guys below this and that, once Max gets on the mound he turns it up to another level. There aren’t too many guys that can even hold him back even when he needs to be held back. Once he’s competing against a hitter, his only thought is getting that hitter out.”

Wieters has much more experience catching Arrieta, as both former Orioles were drafted in the 2007 draft out of Georgia Tech and TCU, respectively. The pair shared six seasons in the Baltimore organization, spending parts of four years together in the majors from 2010 to 2013.

Though Arrieta never reached his full potential with the O’s (5.46 ERA in 69 appearances), Wieters said he always felt that he was destined to be a star in the majors.

“With Jake, you always knew it was in there,” Wieters said. “It wasn’t that the stuff was any different when he was in Baltimore. He had a lot of good outings for us in Baltimore. He just couldn’t get it to where he was going deep in games like he has for Chicago for the last few years. It seemed like he’d been 0-2 on every hitter and then he’d get to 3-2, and then either get them out or give up a hit. But the pitch count would get up.”

Arrieta was traded to the Cubs in July 2013 along with reliever Pedro Strop in a deal that sent Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger to Baltimore and immediately saw success in Chicago. Two years later, he won the NL Cy Young after a posting a video-game-like 22-6 record and 1.77 ERA over 229 innings for the Cubs.

Wieters, who remained with the Orioles until last winter when he signed with Washington, admired Arrieta’s accomplishments from afar.

“I think the change of scenery was huge because it allowed him to just sit back and be himself,” Wieters said. “Just shedding the prospect tag that was on him in Baltimore and being comfortable with being Jake. Jake’s arm is one of a kind. He’s got great stuff and great ability. Sometimes, just a different perspective and a change of scenery is all you need.”

Arrieta’s 2017 season has not been as impressive as Scherzer’s, as the Cub has struggled to a 7-5 mark and 4.36 ERA while experiencing diminished velocity. A free agent at year’s end, some have speculated that the pressure of Arrieta’s pending payday has contributed to his struggles.

Wieters, whose last two seasons in Baltimore have been walk years, admitted that the pressure of the upcoming offseason does weigh on players “a little bit,” but that being between the lines provides a sanctuary from all the outside noise.

“Once you get into playing the game, it’s just playing the game,” Wieters said. “For him, the hardest part is in between starts when you need to just stay focused on getting into that next game instead of letting any thoughts creep in about what the future might be. The most enjoyable part of your free-agent year is actually being able to go out on the field and play. It’s not the other stuff, like thinking how it would be so cool to think about all these offers you’re going to have. You realize that the fun part about baseball is the baseball, not the other stuff that comes along with it.”

Hours before squatting behind the plate to catch his new ace and stepping into the box to face his old one, Wieters wouldn’t pick a favorite when asked which Cy Young winner he preferred catching.

“Jake and I came up together, so we went through a lot of growing pains together,” Wieters said. “I think the cool thing about Max is that I was able to start catching him when he had already proven himself, being at the pinnacle and staying at the peak of his career. Jake and I together, we both learned a lot together. I think it’s neat for me and Max that we both feel very comfortable with what we’ve learned in this game so to be able to put it all together is an enjoyable experience for me.”

Asked what sets them apart from each other, Wieters noted Scherzer has the stronger slider and Arrieta had the better curveball. As for similarities, he said that both pitchers offer four strong pitches that elevate them over other pitchers in today’s game.

“They both have four pitches that are put-away pitches,” Wieters said. “I think the thing that both of them have learned throughout their careers is how to use those put-away pitches quicker. That’s allowed them to get deeper into games and allowed them to go seven or eight innings as opposed to still having the same stuff, but only getting through five or six innings. The maturation of their careers has been huge for both of them that way. They’ve figured out that their stuff is good enough to where they don’t have to waste pitches. They can go right after guys and have a lot of success.”