What is an extremely rare occurrence has now happened twice in the month of July. Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer was placed on the injured list on Monday due to a rhomboid strain in his upper back. It is just the fourth time in his career he has landed on the IL, meaning he has been on the IL as many times in the last three weeks as he was in his previous 11-plus years in Major League Baseball combined.
As much as Scherzer has stood out among his peers throughout his career for his pitching brilliance, his durability has been similarly unique. Since he debuted in 2008, only five pitchers have made more starts. Since Scherzer became a full-time starter in 2009, only Justin Verlander has started more games, pitched more innings and faced more batters.
Verlander by many measures has been the only pitcher more reliable than Scherzer in the last 10-plus years. But Verlander missed roughly 13 starts in 2015 due to an injury. Scherzer is also throwing harder than ever with a career-high 95-mile per hour average on his fastball, while Verlander's has dipped slightly from his hard-throwing prime.
There is an argument to be made that Scherzer is the most durable pitcher of his era. He has made at least 30 starts in 10 straight years which is tied for the longest active streak with Jon Lester. And Scherzer is the only pitcher in baseball with six straight 200-plus inning seasons.
As for why Scherzer has been so indestructible, much of it is due to him taking care of his body, but luck is also involved. He has been able to avoid major injuries while others have not been as fortunate.
The Nationals did exhaustive research on Scherzer before signing him to a seven-year, $210 million free agent contract in Jan. of 2015. Part of their scope was his pitching mechanics and whether they would someday lead to injuries.
The Nationals' medical staff determined at the time he was likely to avoid Tommy John surgery and other serious problems due to the fact he releases the ball further out in front of his body than many of his peers. Though pitching mechanics and predicting injuries combine to be an inexact science, the Nats have since been proven right.
But now, though it isn't an arm injury, Scherzer is showing some minor cracks. His streaks are in jeopardy.
Scherzer has made 20 starts this season and logged 134 1/3 innings. In order to reach 30 starts and 200 innings, he would need to return by mid-August based on his 6.7 innings per-start average this season.
Scherzer is eligible to come off the IL on Aug. 5, but Nats manager Davey Martinez told reporters that is "not by any means a target date." The team will be cautious knowing they need him at 100 percent for the final stretch of the regular season and potentially beyond.
Scherzer has been so reliable over the course of his career that although the rhomboid strain is described as minor, it must be relatively bothersome if he is missing time. Over the years he has likely battled through many small, undisclosed ailments to take the mound for his team every fifth day.
Scherzer is a modern sports marvel with his durability and excellence, now at Age 35. Spending some rare time on the IL is another reminder of that.
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