WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer stood up and left behind evidence of his state via two circular sweat stains on the dugout bench.
Thanked by a public relations staff member for his time, he said, “Yup,” bounced a baseball off the concrete floor then headed into the clubhouse. On the way past manager Davey Martinez’s office, he flashed a thumbs-up at the manager who is now in for a verbal tussle.
Scherzer played catch Wednesday afternoon in Nationals Park. The simple act confirmed what he thought in the morning: he feels fine and is ready to go. Everyone just needs to come together to decide when.
“Felt good,” Scherzer said. “Was able to go out there and play catch, pretty much at the intensity I thought I was going to be able to play catch at [Wednesday], given that I threw a sim game [Tuesday]. So for me, I want to get in a game now. I'm ready to get in a game. Looking forward to pitching.”
On the list of things Scherzer does not want to do next: throw another bullpen session, throw another simulated game, throw a minor-league rehabilitation start. He threw two simulated innings Tuesday, a bullpen session last weekend, plus added strengthening and catch sessions. His main concern was shoulder mobility. Both the scapula and rhomboid muscle injuries which put him on the 10-day injured list led to distinct stiffness in his back and shoulder after he pitched. Scherzer had no such issue Wednesday morning.
“I want to pitch in the big leagues,” Scherzer said. “I think I'm ready to pitch in the big leagues.”
That mentality is of no surprise and remains a benefit and demon. Scherzer has always felt in tune with his body, so much so he’s been frustrated with this injury not just because of its longevity, but because he didn’t identify how to manage it sooner. Meanwhile, he sizzled while watching his teammates try to hang onto a wild-card spot.
“Every time I've dealt with something in my career, you're dealing with pain,” Scherzer said. “You're not able to throw the ball at 100 percent. You know you can't take the ball in that situation. I've been able to get to 100 percent both times, before that Kansas City start and that Colorado start. The days leading up to it, I was at 100 percent. I was throwing the ball, completely getting through it.
“This was kind of an endurance injury, where when I get into a game and get into ... the upper pitch counts, I guess that's when I was injuring myself, because nothing else made sense. I don't second-guess anything about taking the ball or anything like that. Every time in my life I've ever thrown a ball at 100 percent, I always take the mound. I wouldn't have changed anything. It's just now trying to understand what this injury is and what I have to do to train around it and how to pitch around it, as well.”
Davey Martinez shared Scherzer’s positive viewpoint about the last 36 hours. However, he was not as clear when asked about Scherzer’s chances of pitching soon -- and in the major leagues.
“This … for me, this is almost a different thing,” Martinez said. “Before it was a totally different issue. So now I want to make sure that we’re cautious. He’s gone through all the proper rehab, with everything that they did, him working with Harvey [Sharman], Paul [Lessard], I mean they’ve been really, really checking all the boxes with him right now. We’ll see. He’s very excited this morning. So we’ll see. Like I said, I’m going to sit down with Paul and see where we’re at.”
Scherzer will be limited when he pitches next -- Martinez and Scherzer at least immediately agree about that. He was on a pitch count in his last start, back on July 26, when he threw 86 pitches in five innings. The Nationals don’t want to waste any of Scherzer on a rehabilitation start. He’s a 35-year-old, $210 million, Hall-of-Fame bound pitcher. If he pitches, it will be in the majors. And, Scherzer will be cautious when doing so.
“Any time I don't think I'm at 100 percent, I've always communicated with the coaches of where I'm at,” Scherzer said. “There's times where I am telling them, hey, you need to pull me after 100, there are times I'm telling them when they need to pull me. I don't want you to be confused I don't do that. Because there's times I tell them -- I always say, if I have the ability to tell you no, I have the ability to tell you yes. And, so, for me, it will be just going out there and listening to my body and really paying attention to how deep I can go in the game.”
The Nationals have not named their weekend starters for a crucial three-game series against Milwaukee. Patrick Corbin is scheduled to start Friday. Saturday and Sunday remain open. Aníbal Sánchez would be on turn Saturday. However, that seems a slot for Scherzer after throwing the simulation game Tuesday but no bullpen session before a start. Erick Fedde would be the Sunday option, unless he is bumped by a Scherzer return and Sánchez moving to Sunday.
“I love the way Fedde and Joe [Ross] are pitching, I really do, but you’re talking about one of the best pitchers in the game,” Martinez said. “If he’s ready, he’ll be out there.”
He says he is. Next is convincing everyone else.
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