Max Scherzer needed to reach a threshold to feel confident he could pitch deep into Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday afternoon.
Despite suffering a right hamstring tweak in his final regular season start on Sept. 30, the Washington Nationals pitcher said Sunday that he’d previously felt good enough to be able to pitch earlier in the series. It was simply a matter of how long he could go.
But after Sunday’s throwing session at Wrigley Field, Scherzer said a modified workout program consisting of endurance exercises has him feeling so good that he’s already considered the possibility of pitching in Game 5 if needed.
“I’m very confident as soon as I toe the rubber that, hey, I’m going to be good on pitch one,” Scherzer said. “It’s how long can I go without re-injuring this.
“That’s where we’ve done everything we can to make sure that I can throw 100 pitches and not have this happen. When I get on the mound (Monday), I’m fully anticipating being able throw 100 pitches.”
“I’m feeling a lot better. I feel strong.”
Scherzer’s confidence about his readiness doesn’t stop at Monday’s critical matchup against Cubs starter Jose Quintana. The five-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young winner said that part of the decision-making process included the possibility about returning in a potential Game 5 relief effort.
Rather than push to pitch in Game 2 on Saturday, Scherzer talked to the Nationals training staff about the benefit of a Game 3 appearance. Moving to a Game 3 start allowed for two more days of building up strength. It also still affords him enough time to recuperate in case the Game 5 scenario arose.
“It was a process of going through every scenario and weight the risk versus the reward,” Scherzer said. “We kind of ran down every scenario of what a five-game series looks like and tried to make the best decision possible for the club.”
Scherzer said he and the Nationals training staff identified the weak part of his hamstring and worked to strengthen it. A portion of Scherzer’s recovery program included running distance, pole-to-pole and sprints.
In spite of the pitcher’s confidence, manager Dusty Baker said he’ll keep a close eye on Scherzer.
“I’m going to be looking for any difference or change of arm angles or if he winces or whatever,” Baker said. “We just have to keep an eye on him and you don’t want him to favor that and end up hurting his arm or something. You know, his career is primary to any of this.”
Scherzer identified his hamstring as an “ailment” instead of an injury. He’s had several minor bumps and bruises in what he described as a frustrating season. Still, he’s worked his way into a confident spot. If that weren’t enough, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman provided a little more motivation with their late-inning thunder on Saturday night.
“That was a crazy eighth inning for us,” Scherzer said. “Guys had a little bounce in their step today.”