ARLINGTON, Texas -- If the Texas Rangers are going to win the World Series, they will likely need Max Scherzer to make at least one more start, perhaps as many as three -- and they will need him to perform a lot better than he did Wednesday night against the Astros, when he allowed five runs in four innings.
Making his first appearance in a major league game in 36 days, after being sidelined by a strained right shoulder, Scherzer struggled to command his slider, the pitch that has been a difference-maker for him throughout his career. The Rangers couldn't make up the deficit, losing 8-5 to see their ALCS lead cut to 2-1.
"It comes down to execution," said Scherzer, who talked over and again about how he was not able to complete pitches as he intended, his words tumbling quietly and quickly in front of his locker. "I know what I need to do."
Scherzer's first pitch was 95 mph, even more velocity than Rangers manager Bruce Bochy hoped for; given Scherzer's long layoff, Bochy mentioned before the game that he'd be pleased if Scherzer reached 93 mph. And Scherzer spun his curveball effectively.
But his slider was not sharp, and he couldn't wield it to finish off hitters, as he has so often in his career. Scherzer threw 13 sliders and allowed more hits (two) with the pitch than he generated missed swings.
As Astros second baseman Jose Altuve acknowledged after the game, this allowed the Houston hitters to narrow their focus and look for pitches to drive.
Altuve jumped a high fastball for a home run, among five hits that Scherzer allowed, and as Scherzer tried to establish his slider or an alternative, he hit Yordan Alvarez with a pitch, threw a wild pitch and issued a walk.
"He's going to be a little rusty overall," said Bochy, who pulled Scherzer after four innings and 63 pitches. "I was really pleased with his stuff. It's only going to get better. ... He feels good, that's what important."
As he left the field in the fourth inning, Scherzer stopped for a brief conversation with Bochy as he reached the dugout, with Bochy pointing toward the bullpen. Rookie left-hander Cody Bradford replaced him in the fifth.
"I was trying to communicate how I felt," Scherzer said. "I'm not second-guessing any decisions, but it's also my job as the starting pitcher to communicate how I feel. I still felt strong. I still feel like I could get outs. Then it's up to them to make the decision whether they want to use me or not."
The Rangers are listing left-hander Andrew Heaney as their probable starter for Game 4 on Thursday night. If Bochy keeps his rotation in its current alignment, Scherzer would be on track to start Game 7 in Houston.
"I don't know exactly how I'll be used from here on out," Scherzer said. "But my arm feels good. That's the No. 1 thing."
Bochy talked about how, moving forward, Scherzer will play an important role for the Rangers.
"We did all we could to get him ready for this," Bochy said of Scherzer. "He was ready. You saw the stuff. He's one of our guys. There's no regret on that."
For a lot of September, there was doubt that Scherzer would pitch again this year, and step by step, he rebuilt arm strength, threw simulated games, spoke hopefully about wanting to contribute. His first attempt to help went badly; this was the Rangers' first defeat after seven consecutive postseason wins.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.