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Much to his pleasure, Max Scherzer ‘probable’ to start this week

Much to his pleasure, Max Scherzer ‘probable’ to start this week

WASHINGTON -- If you ask Max Scherzer, he is ready. Which is not an upgrade from where he was earlier in the week.

Scherzer felt well again Sunday when he woke up following his second simulation game of the week. His workload increased Saturday, his comfort remained the same and Sunday his body told him he is ready to pitch in a game for the first time since July 25. Davey Martinez agreed -- for the most part. He said Scherzer is “probable” to start Thursday in Pittsburgh.

“I feel good,” Scherzer said. “Kinda do my normal little tests, move my arm and go through the throwing motion, so I feel good. I’m basically sore today the way I should be sore, given that and all the treatment we did yesterday and throwing a sim game. Like everything feels right where it should be. There’s no extra soreness other than what I anticipated. To me, that’s right on par.”

Scherzer remains irritated he was instructed to throw a second simulation game. He understands why. It just was not his personal preference. Part of the reason is in the title of the act. “Simulation” is not reality. For instance, he warned Gerardo Parra a slider was coming in the first simulation game. “Watch your foot,” Scherzer told him out of concern for possible injury. Pitchers are not truly pitching inside during simulations because of that worry. Players could be found to stand in the box without concern of injury. However, they couldn’t competently handle a hall-of-fame pitcher. So, that’s a false test, too. Only being in a game tells the truth.

But this is what Scherzer had to deal with because of the organization managed his return slowly. They focused on the future -- both this season and beyond. Scherzer is much more concerned about the now because, in his view, his rhomboid strain is not a significant injury.

“The long-term health, that’s not even part of the equation,” Scherzer said. “We all know that’s going to be good because we’re dealing with a muscle strain. Every other structure within the back, shoulder, you name it – nothing at play here. It’s literally dealing with the muscle strain and getting through it.”

Knowing this is not a long-term injury has keyed Scherzer’s frustration with the process. He’s felt close, then ready, really close, and again ready throughout the recovery. He’s being teased by the thing he wants to do most: get back on the mound in a real game. 

“Honestly, the toughest part about this whole thing is I feel like the carrot’s right in front of my face,” Scherzer said. “That it’s such day to day that any day it could turn and you always wake up every single day thinking today’s the day that you’re going to wake up and not feel anything and you’re going to go out there and you’re going to throw it and you’re going to feel no pain whatsoever. And you go off running because it’s not a serious injury. That’s been the most frustrating part. 

“If I knew that was going to be however long this is going to take – if I was dealing with, say, a more significant injury where they say, ‘You’re not going to feel good in six weeks’ – all right, you got it. You can easily mentally check out for six weeks knowing I’m not going to be able to throw a ball in six weeks and you can build your rehab around that. That hasn’t been the case. It’s really been day to day: ‘Hey, you might be feeling good here in two days.’ That’s really been the prognosis I’ve gotten from the doctors and everybody about what I’m dealing with. 

“So for me, that’s really been the hardest part mentally. I feel like at any point in time I could be ready to get back out there and at any day everybody’s expecting that this could turn. For me, when you have that carrot right in front of your face and you want to be helping your team, that’s what’s been the most frustrating part for me mentally.”

A bullpen session Monday should be next. After that, a final step to diffuse all of Scherzer’s irritation, his competition-based combat with Martinez and the organization and exasperation with a muscle strain which derailed him for a month can come: pitch one.

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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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