After nearly seven weeks away from the big league mound, Max Scherzer didn’t need a grace period to return to dominance.

It came immediately.

Scherzer retired the first batter he faced and went on to go six scoreless innings on his return from a moderate-to-high slant strain that has kept him out since May 18.

He finished his outing with eight straight strikeouts as he notched a season-high 11 strikeouts and two hits and one hit against the Reds Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park. Despite missing 48 days after feeling a “zing” at his side, Scherzer delivered arguably his best start to the season on his return.

Max Scherzer of the New York Mets throws in the third inning of the team's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

“I felt good,” Scherzer told reporters. “No issues today. I felt strong throughout. It never tightened me up, so that’s a good thing.”

Scherzer settled for a no-decision as the Mets were ruled out for the fourth time in 2022 and slipped to 50-31. However, the stoppage outing helped Scherzer reduce his ERA to 2.26 and his WHIP to 0.88.

He was replaced by Joely Rodriguez to start the seventh and the Mets ultimately lost 1-0 as Seth Lugo gave up a brace, two walks and a sacrificial fly to Mike Moustakas in the ninth inning.

Scherzer hadn’t pitched since a clash with the Cardinals at Citi Field when he gestured for the dugout after throwing the second pitch of an at-bat to Albert Pujols. His night ended after 87 pitches with two outs in the frame and Scherzer was diagnosed with the oblique strain.

Despite the Mets’ loss, these were all encouraging signs for Scherzer as he reappeared in the rotation. Here’s what Scherzer showed off in his long-awaited comeback:

What he looked like

Scherzer delivered an electric opener on his first start, needing just nine pitches to pass the first inning. He knocked out leadoff hitter Jonathan India on a 2-2 fastball. Then he got back-to-back ground outs to cap his first of four 1-2-3 innings.

Max Scherzer of the New York Mets throws in the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

He commanded his five pitches, relying heavily on his fastball and slider, but keeping the Reds off balance by spotting his curveball, cutter and change.

“I was able to locate the fastball to anyone, but most importantly, I felt like I had a really good slider tonight,” Scherzer said. “My rehab is starting, my slider wasn’t breaking the right way. During that turn in my bullpen, I thought I found my slider, and I knew I was going to need it against this team and I was able to run that and make that adjustment.”

The only problem Scherzer faced came in the second inning as he gave up a one-out single to Donovan Solano and hit Moustakas on the elbow on the next at-bat. Solano moved up to third on a fly ball, but Scherzer was able to take out Matt Reynolds on a fastball to emerge unscathed from a 23-pitch inning.

The only other baserunner allowed by Scherzer was a one-out single against Tyler Naquin late in the fourth inning. The Mets ace struck out the next five batters in order, including a pair on his slider. Early on, he passed John Smoltz for 18th all-time in the career strikeouts list, bringing his career total to 3,089.

“He never loses a chance to improve,” Showalter told reporters. “Whether it’s scouting reports, where the defense is going to play guys, whether it’s a receiver, he never talks about receivers. The guy never makes excuses. It makes you want to bring that what you want to bring as a player.”

Scherzer threw three balls to a single batter during his outing. It came to Reynolds in the bottom of the fifth, but Scherzer pulled himself together after a 3-1 count to recover a strikeout on a 95 mph fastball.

Workload

One of the biggest questions going into the night was what leash Buck Showalter would give Scherzer.

Max Scherzer of the New York Mets prepares to throw out a pitch during the fifth inning of the team's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

The Mets ace had two starts in rehab with Class AA Binghamton before returning to the major league mound. In his first outing on June 21, he threw 65 pitches in 3⅔ innings. In the second of a week off on June 29, Scherzer used 80 pitches to go 4⅔ innings.

Despite apparent frustration with a quick hook into the dugout after six deciding innings, Showalter made the decision to retire Scherzer after 79 pitches.

“He wanted to throw seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th,” Showalter said. “He’ll never want to get out of the game. He’s never looking for you on that. Those are tough calls when you take that good pitcher out of the game, but we’d love to have him with us for the long haul.”

Showalter did not reveal whether he expects Scherzer to pitch on four normal days off or have an extra day or two before his next start for the team. The Mets manager said he will continue to rely on discussions with his ace to see how long he thinks he can go on each start.

“That’s a good problem to have,” Scherzer said. “Buck is going to make the best decision for the ball club and my health and my long-term health. I fully understand where he’s coming from. That being said, I had no issues tonight. I felt great, I felt strong. I wanted to hit that 90, 95 mark, he just didn’t want to send me there for the seventh, and I understand that.

The old guard against the new

Scherzer wasn’t the only pitcher to return from injury in Tuesday night’s game.

The Reds sent in left-hander Nick Lodolo, who hadn’t started in over two months with a back injury. The 24-year-old rookie, who was MLB.com’s No. 42 prospect at the start of the season, held the Mets’ offense through the first four innings.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Nick Lodolo throws in the first inning of the team's baseball game against the New York Mets in Cincinnati on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

The Mets struggled to deal with Lodolo’s wipeout slider as he picked up four of his eight strikeouts on this pitch, including a pair against Pete Alonso. He left the game after 89 pitches after a walk to Starling Marte with two outs in the fifth.

The Mets had four batters who reached base position against Lodolo, but couldn’t cash in the first four frames. Mark Canha singled to start the second inning and advanced on a hit and a wild pitch, but JD Davis hit on a lead and James McCann pulled out to Lodolo to end the threat.

“He’s a really good TCU pick, 6-6, hard to get the ball off him, lots of movement,” Showalter said. “A lot of people compare him, with a little higher arm angle, to Chris Sale. He’s a big one. You can see how excited they are about him.”

On the night, the Mets blocked nine base runners and were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.