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Red Sox-Nationals opener features a buddy matchup on the mound

Rick Porcello said he learned a lot from Max Scherzer when they were teammates in Detroit.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

NEW YORK — The Max Scherzer-Rick Porcello matchup Monday night in Washington is personal. That’s because these two former Cy Young winners were and remain best of friends. They were two pitchers who sat together in the Tigers’ dugout in their years in Detroit, dissecting how to pitch to hitters. If there’s a little bit of Max Scherzer in Rick Porcello and a bit of Max Scherzer in Rick Porcello, you understand why.

“Looking forward to it,” Porcello said as he headed out the door to catch a flight to Washington ahead of Sunday night’s game at Yankee Stadium. “We’ve been texting back and forth. We’ve had a good time with it and I’m sure we’ll both get a kick about going against each other once the game starts.”


While they have different styles, in their time together they learned about things like changing speeds on their fastballs, changing eye levels, doing things that disrupt the hitter.

“We always had great conversations about pitching,” Porcello said. “He’s so smart about the game and about how to pitch to certain hitters that you couldn’t help but learn from him. I was like a sponge with him. We just had the best time with it.”

It was the modern day version of the Tom Glavine-Greg Maddux-John Smoltz dynamic for many years in Atlanta. The three of them spoke incessantly about two things — pitching and golf. They made the most dynamic pitching triumvirate in history. All three made it to the Hall of Fame.

Porcello is looking more like the pitcher who won the Cy Young in 2016 than the pitcher who led baseball with 17 losses in 2017. In his first year with the Red Sox, when he went 9-15, there was a theory that Porcello missed the dugout talks with Scherzer.


Then in 2016, Porcello won the American League Cy Young and Scherzer the National League Cy Young, the second of his three. They went out afterward to celebrate at a New York bar after the award presentations.

“It was so great,” Porcello recalled. “To see us both get that award was something you couldn’t have scripted. Certainly not surprised Max won it. He’s a great pitcher and he’s in the hunt every year for it. There aren’t many more talented pitchers in the game than Max. He works at it. The things I learned from him was the preparation aspect of it. How he got ready physically and mentally are things I picked up on and tried to emulate over the years. When you see the work ethic and the detail and see how it works for him, you want to see if you can duplicate that. Obviously you have to tailor it to your style of pitching, but he was always a big help.”

The third wheel in that Tigers group was Justin Verlander. Porcello and Scherzer seemed more compatible and closer in style than Verlander. But they both derived great things from Verlander as well.

It was, at times, an All-Star staff. At one point there were four would-be Cy Young winners in Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, and David Price. It was an All-Star staff put together by then Tigers president Dave Dombrowski. Scherzer eventually left as a free agent after a long, drawn-out negotiation with the Tigers that didn’t see fruition. Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, was able to get the Lerner ownership in Washington to commit to a seven-year, $210 million deal in January 2015. By then, Dombrowski had already traded Porcello to the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes. Porcello signed a four-year, $82.5 million deal before the 2015 season that will expire after next season.


“Both are very competitive,” Dombrowski said. “Rick, being younger, always had an open ear to Max.”

The friendship has continued even without the teammate aspect to it. Porcello, 29, has been on underperforming Red Sox teams and Scherzer, 33, on underperforming Nats teams. Both teams fired their managers — John Farrell and Dusty Baker — after last season and brought in first-time managers in Alex Cora and Dave Martinez.

Both teams have high-end players such as Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper and both teams have young studs in Rafael Devers and Juan Soto.

Both teams need to win and get past the first round of the playoffs. Both teams have front-line rotations — Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez in Washington while Boston has Chris Sale, Price, and Porcello.

“They have a good team over there and any time Max pitches they have a great chance to win,” Porcello said. “He’s having a great year. He’s been pretty unhittable, but that’s what I expect. I wouldn’t expct anything less.”

Scherzer is 10-4 with a 2.04 ERA in 17 starts and leads the league in strikeouts (165), innings (114⅔ ), and WHIP (0.855). Porcello is 9-3 with a 3.60 ERA in 17 starts. After 17 starts in 2016, he was 10-2 with a 3.82 ERA, a season he finished 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA.


“When he’s on the mound he’s all business, and you get an education in pitching just watching how he does it,” Porcello said. “I think he’s the best pitcher in the game. He’s a guy I respect and I’ll always respect. I’m honored to be his friend.”

Except that on Monday night, there’ll be a 3-4-hour period where the friendship will go into hiatus, only to resurface afterward.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.