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‘He did a good job tonight’

March 3, 2023;  Port St.  Lucie, Florida, USA;  New York Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez (50) walks off the field against the Washington Nationals during the seventh inning at Clover Park

March 3, 2023; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; New York Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez (50) walks off the field against the Washington Nationals during the seventh inning at Clover Park / Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer made his third start this spring on Wednesday and it was an odd outing for the Mets ace.

In three innings, Scherzer allowed just one hit (a home run), one walk, two earned runs and struck out nine batters. He went up against the Nicaragua World Baseball Classic team, who are playing this game as a tune up before the tournament begins for them, and while he looked dominant his signature slider wasn’t there for him.

“I didn’t have a good slider tonight. Wasn’t able to generate swings and misses with it,” Scherzer said after his start. “That’s one of my bread-and-butter pitches, I’m not worried about it, just have to sharpen that up.”

His one mistake was the solo shot given up to the Nicaraguan third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert in the second inning on a two-seam fastball that the hitter got to and launched over the left field wall.

But most of the mistakes on Wednesday came from the defense behind Scherzer. In that same inning, Mark Vientos — who got the start at first base — misplayed a grounder. The usually sure-handed Luis Guillorme booted a grounder to him in the next at-bat. Neither of those runners would score, but a throwing error from Francisco Alvarez behind the plate allowed Scherzer’s second run to score in the third inning.

“Anything can happen in spring. In some ways that’s good,” Scherzer said of the defense behind him. “Innings are happening, that’s going to happen in the regular season, there is going to be misplays behind me, you just can’t let it affect you, you have to continue to execute pitches. I was able to, although they hit the homer, not allow anything else to happen.”

Wednesday’s game was also significant in that Alvarez was behind the plate for the first time this spring with Scherzer.

The highly-touted prospect is looking for a spot on the Mets Opening Day roster but there’s question marks around his defense and ability to call games with a veteran rotation. Wednesday was a big test for Alvarez and Scherzer was complimentary of the organization’s No. 1 prospectus.

“We’re continuing to work together, get on the same page, understand what we’re trying to do with each pitch,” he said. “He did a good job of putting the target where I wanted. We’re getting a better rapport in that way.”

Scherzer added jokingly, “I didn’t have my slider and I’m telling him, ‘trust me, tonight is not indicative of how my slider is.'”

The former Cy Young Award winner explained that it was a little difficult to get on the same page because of that pitch and it didn’t give Alvarez the best feeling of what to expect when catching him. Scherzer said Alvarez would try to have him throw something else, but he kept going back to his slider so he could try and get the feeling on it back. Unfortunately, he couldn’t.

Despite that hiccup, Scherzer came away impressed with the young catcher.

“We talked about how we were sequencing, how we were working together, rhythm. Different things we were seeing. He did a good job tonight.”

With Omar Narvaez playing in the WBC with Venezuela, Alvarez could see a lot more playing time behind the plate alongside Tomas Nido. If the Mets hope Alvarez develops into a cornerstone of their organization moving forward, he’ll need all the reps he can this spring with the likes of Scherzer and Justin Verlander.