SAN DIEGO -- Max Scherzer has been known to get fired up in the midst of a game, slamming his pitching hand in his glove after a big out. The slam of his fist into his glove as he returned to the dugout at the end of the second inning wasn't one of those.
It was an angry slam, and it pretty well summed up his Sunday afternoon in the Tigers' 5-1 loss to the Padres at Petco Park. He wasn't angry about the Jedd Gyorko home run he gave up that inning, but about the three-ball count that set it up.
"The result isn't what I'm frustrated by. That happens when you don't do the process right," Scherzer said. "The process is to constantly be attacking, constantly be ahead."
The process was a pretty wild ride Sunday.
Scherzer was ahead in enough counts to rack up two-thirds of his outs by strikeout, becoming the first Tiger since at least 1914 to strike out 10 batters or more in five innings or less. On the flip side, he was behind enough to last just five innings with that kind of stuff.
That's why, when asked how he would assess his outing, he wasn't looking at the strikeouts.
"Just inefficient," Scherzer said with a heavy sigh. "I just didn't feel like I was efficient out there. But I also have to give them credit as well. I'm not going to sit here and ignore what they did. They battled me. They made me work. But I also felt like I just didn't consistently pound the strike zone the way I'm accustomed to."
When Scherzer was seemingly unbeatable for much of 2013, he kept saying that wins and losses aren't good signs of a pitcher's performance. By the time Sunday's outing was over, his pitching line wasn't great with indicators, either.
He prides himself on his last 15 pitches, and he needed just 12 to strike out the middle of the Padres' lineup in order in his final inning, part of five strikeouts over his final seven hitters. Three of the four hits he allowed, however, brought in runs, including two runs that reached on walks ahead of Will Venable's two-run double.
That's why he returned to the dugout so frustrated with himself that he forgot he was due up to bat second in the next inning.
"I said some colorful words to myself," Scherzer said. "They had to tell me I was on deck, so I was literally grabbing my bat as I ran up there, took three practice swings and tried to get a fastball."
Not only did he get one, he hit it well, smacking a sharp ground ball up the middle. Gyorko's diving stop and throw to rob him of a single was another sign that it wasn't Scherzer's day.
For that matter, it really hasn't been his season thus far. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, who won his first 13 decisions last season, is winless through three starts in 2014. He hasn't pitched with a lead since his eighth and final inning two starts ago at Comerica Park, before a blown save by Joe Nathan.
Detroit's offense, which helped Scherzer to baseball's highest run support last year, has scored one run in each of his last three outings while he has been in the game. On an afternoon when Tyson Ross gave up a lone run in seven innings and allowed just two other Tigers into scoring position, Scherzer didn't have much of a chance.
"Just one of those games where we couldn't really get anything going," manager Brad Ausmus said. "We got some hits and we were able to outhit them, but we just couldn't get any runs. I don't know how to describe it, but it was kind of a blah day for us."
Scherzer strung the game along, trying to keep them in it long enough for the offense to ignite. Back-to-back walks and Venable's double in the fourth put the Padres ahead for good.
It was an example of how a long at-bat and a walk can set up quick damage afterwards against a pitcher looking to get ahead. After Chase Headley drew a five-pitch leadoff walk, Yonder Alonso battled Scherzer for 10 pitches, fouling off six of them, including four with two strikes.
With the count full, Alonso fouled off three consecutive fastballs on the outside corner to keep the at-bat going. Scherzer, hoping he had sped up Alonso's bat enough, threw him a changeup on the 10th pitch and missed well off the outside corner.
Up came Venable, who entered the day 3-for-7 with two doubles and two RBIs off Scherzer from their days as National League West opponents when Scherzer pitched for the D-backs. He got a first-pitch strike and pulled it into the right-field corner.
"I'm aware he's aggressive and willing to attack me," Scherzer (0-1) said. "Sometimes in that situation, you have to go with your best pitch and believe in that pitch. I believe if I threw a fastball down and away, I could have success. Unfortunately, left it over the middle of the plate and got beat."
While Venable and Scherzer were familiar foes, Ross (1-2) did not resemble the wild young right-hander the Tigers remembered from their previous meetings in Oakland in 2010 and '11. Torii Hunter's leadoff double in the fourth was Detroit's only extra-base hit, and four of the other six hits were ground-ball singles.
Hunter scored in the fourth on a Victor Martinez single, and he had a chance to rally Detroit back an inning later. A hit-by-pitch to Rajai Davis and an infield single by Ian Kinsler started a two-out rally for Hunter. Ross threw him three sliders for a strikeout to end the threat.