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Max Scherzer’s next start pushed back because of lingering back issue

Max Scherzer’s next start pushed back because of lingering back issue

PHILADELPHIA -- Max Scherzer will not pitch Sunday.

That’s the situation in its most simplistic terms. Scherzer had an MRI on the middle of his back Wednesday during the All-Star break. It came back negative, though he remains sore. Anibal Sanchez will start in his place Sunday in Philadelphia. The team says it does not know when Scherzer will start next, but he’s hopeful for Tuesday in Baltimore.

“Tuesday's realistic,” Scherzer said following the Nationals’ 4-0 win Friday. “That's what we're hoping for. That's where we're just in a matter of days here. This is not a major thing. We know exactly what this is. We know it's muscular. The pause for concern is that we tried to get it going for the Kansas City start and it wasn't able to recover from the Kansas City start. Now you got to go on a little different protocol to make sure I'm 100 percent right before I step on the mound again.”

Whenever he returns to the mound, it will be following a prolonged break. Scherzer threw 103 pitches July 6 when his back was bothering him. He did not pitch in the All-Star Game. His next earliest opportunity to pitch is July 16 in Baltimore. That would be 10 days after his last start and the equivalent of a full injured list stint. But, manager Davey Martinez would not commit to the date.

“He’s sore, so we talked and we decided just push him back a couple days and see how he feels,” Martinez said before the game. “We’re at a point now, where he went through an unbelievable run and we’re just trying to take care of him.”

Scherzer threw Friday up to 75 feet during the Nationals’ brief team workout, a staple following the All-Star break.

“He felt better,” Martinez said. 

The Nationals and Scherzer originally anticipated Scherzer not pitching in the All-Star Game would remedy his back issue. 

“What he did the last four, five weeks was incredible,” Martinez said. “When he’s ready, like I said, I don’t want this to linger, I want it to go away. If he needs a couple days -- right now, coming off the break, everybody’s strong and healthy, we can figure this out.”

Scherzer’s back issue started in Detroit following his June 30 start against his former team. He was able to manage the issue well enough to make his final start before the All-Star break. Scherzer did not mention a possibility of missing his Sunday start when talking with reporters Monday or Tuesday at the All-Star festivities. He expected to throw on the field pregame Tuesday before the All-Star Game. He chose not to because of his back.

The pre-All-Star break workload for Scherzer was hefty. He led the National League in innings pitched and pitches thrown. Scherzer was the only National League pitcher to throw more than 2,000 pitches this season before the schedule paused -- though that’s not abnormal work for someone annually leading the league in such categories.

“Everything else on my body feels great,” Scherzer said. “The fact that I was able to go out there and make a start and have something tight and not compromise my shoulder or elbow, that, knock on wood, was what we were really concerned about. So, that's what you're really worried about. The fact some other little muscles in the back tightened up after that start, that's just what happened. So, going forward,I absolutely trust everybody in the medical staff, their opinions, their diagnosis what this and how soon I should be ready to be back on the mound.”

Scherzer put together the best month of his career when he roared through June. High-end starts at the end of May and start of July bookended the June push to put Scherzer into the lead -- in the eyes of many -- for the National League Cy Young Award. He led the National League in strikeouts and WAR for pitchers when play began Friday. He’s third in ERA, batting average against and WHIP.

A distinct point of pride for Scherzer is never going on the injured list during his 12-year career. He’s managed small issues the last year-plus, including a stiff neck and broken nose, but rarely has missed a start. Scherzer has made at least 30 starts every season since 2009. When his next one will be is unknown.

“This is not something to be overly concerned about,” Scherzer said. “I know what it takes to toe the rubber. You have to absolutely be able to get through the pitch. I thought I was able to get through the pitch and get through the ball against Kansas City, felt fine, obviously didn't hurt myself though this other little muscle tightened up on me and just hasn't relaxed. I know the feeling of what it's going to take to get back on the mound and get completely though the ball. Like I said, we're only a matter of days. This isn't a long-term injury.”

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Trea Turner tries out the Soto Shuffle on a pitching machine

Trea Turner tries out the Soto Shuffle on a pitching machine

As Miles Mikolas proved during the National League Championship Series, the Soto Shuffle can get into a pitcher’s head.

Nationals left fielder Juan Soto made the move famous after shuffling back and forth across the batter’s box after taking pitches outside the strike zone.

With baseball on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak, teammate Trea Turner posted a video on Instagram of him doing his own rendition of the move while taking balls from a pitching machine.

While he didn’t go as far as copying Soto’s cup grab—the move that made Mikolas mad in the first place—Turner did seem to get into the machine’s, uh, head. All the pitches he saw were well outside the zone.

Soto reposted the video on his own Instagram story, so he must have approved of the Turner Shuffle.

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Exclusive: Max Scherzer on baseball’s stoppage, its limbo, and what is important when it restarts

Exclusive: Max Scherzer on baseball’s stoppage, its limbo, and what is important when it restarts

Max Scherzer’s days at his rented home in West Palm Beach consist of maintenance and Moana.

He arrives there Jan. 1 because Christmas is behind him and the time for baseball is approaching. It’s also warm. So, there’s that. By the end of March, he’s gone, into another year of the non-stop season.

But this time, he’s still there on March 31 instead of in Miami making what would have been his second start of the season. Scherzer works out in the morning with weights and bands he gathered before FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches was shuttered and converted to a coronavirus testing site. He has a throwing partner, and works off a mound a couple times a week, throwing 40 to 50 pitches in each session. He’s trying to convince his brain it’s December, again, not March.

Scherzer is with his wife, Erica, and their two daughters. The youngsters know dad is home a lot. That’s about it. They also know they want to see Moana, and a child’s demands are uninfluenced by the altered universe outside or their father’s Hall of Fame prospects. It’s one of the few normalcies.

In between the Disney watching and workouts, Scherzer, a member of the eight-player MLBPA executive subcommittee, was part of the group trying to work a deal between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the league. Baseball has never gone through this kind of stoppage before. So, there was no blueprint. And, the two sides have not been operating gleefully the last two years when public animus between the groups was high. However, in this pressing crisis, something needed to be done swiftly and with singular focus. Everyone knew baseball needed a deal.

“That was a pretty stressful 10 days there,” Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington in a phone interview Tuesday. “Both sides were motivated to get a deal done. We knew we needed to come together and do something about it. Getting down in that rabbit hole, really had to go through some phone calls to understand all the moving pieces that had to be addressed. There were so many different players that were affected in so many different ways. Really tried to come up with what everybody wanted and what we could obviously kind of bargain for to be able to get the best deal possible.

“Service time was very important to every player. That’s just the lifeblood of this CBA and what the players need. We really wanted that backstop no matter what happened -- whatever is going to happen during this year -- to make sure every player is going to be able to get service time. Once that piece kind of got in place, and we agreed to prorate salaries, everything else kind of started to fall into place.”

The reported framework for moving forward was born out of those discussions. Safety is first, and will continue to be, as the sides try to determine when the season should begin. Maximizing the number of games is a huge priority. Flexibility is also paramount.

Players and organizations map out the offseason based on report dates and the first game of the regular season. When those are known, everyone works backward. Projecting forward is key once the season begins. Neither can be accomplished without a start date.

Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said an optimistic view would target mid-May as a time to ramp things back up. Scherzer backed that idea, saying a target date to start games would be June 1. Three weeks of spring training prior would be necessary. However, Scherzer emphasized nothing is firm.

“Even then, we don’t even know if that’s even going to be possible [to return to facilities],” Scherzer said. “There’s absolutely nothing written in stone. No one can truly forecast what’s going to happen in this pandemic. It’s just trying to give a loose forecast of what we anticipate we could have happen. For us, everybody's just following what the CDC is going to recommend.”

Let’s use June 1 as a hypothetical marker -- again with the reminder this is not being suggested as a concrete date -- when considering what could come from the 2020 schedule. How can the schedule be massaged after two-plus lost months in order to deliver the maximum number of games? What would cold-weather playoff solutions look like? What’s the necessary amount of regular-season work to have a legitimate season?

Those are among the slew of questions after an opening date is settled on.

“I think everything’s absolutely on the table of what we want to be able to do to get the most amount of games in, and I think that includes playing through October,” Scherzer said. “And just finding any which way we can to get in as many games as possible to have it reflective [of a full] season, so that when we do have the playoffs, when we have a World Series champion, whoever wins the World Series this year is going to earn it.

“I think you can go down a few [total] games and get into the playoffs because whoever is going to win these games -- because that means as a team you’ve been staying ready. You’ve been preparing without a date and trying to fight your way to be able to get this. For me, whoever ends up getting into the playoffs and wins the whole World Series, you’ve earned it because everybody is in the exact same situation right now not knowing when we’re going to play, how many games we’re going to play. Everybody is handling this of their own accord. Whoever navigates this crisis the best, gets to be the champs.”

One thing Scherzer is convinced of: November postseason baseball, should it exist, would have to be at neutral sites that could all but guarantee a proper environment to play in.

“The teams in the north, once you get into November, the weather can be too cruel for baseball,” Scherzer said. “So, this isn’t a permanent thing. But this is just what we have to do to be able to play baseball and try to get as many games in [as possible].”

And, the work to make the season happen is far from over. The players -- whom Scherzer touted as thoroughly connected during the first negotiation -- need to again come together with the league. Will players accept ties so games don’t go beyond nine innings? What will the roster limits be? Will the injured list parameters be adjusted? How many doubleheaders would be acceptable? On and on and on.

“We might have been able to get a deal done, and that’s a great milestone considering [we’re] navigating a great crisis,” Scherzer said. “But we still have a ton of challenges in front of us to make decisions about what the season’s going to look like.”

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