Scherzer gets through first bullpen session with modified grip

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Max Scherzer was able to throw his first bullpen session of the spring Saturday, using a modified grip on his fastball to avoid the pain in his right ring finger he experiences when trying to throw it the conventional way.

Scherzer has been behind the rest of the Nationals pitching staff this spring while he recovers from a stress fracture in the knuckle on his ring finger sustained late last season. He has said he has been able to throw all of his off-speed pitches with no issues, but still feels discomfort when he tries to throw his fastball.

scherzer-pitching-follow-through-sidebar.jpgScherzer, though, began playing long toss last week using a three-finger grip and reported no problems. He appears to have tried out that technique Saturday in his first session throwing off a mound this spring, though it’s unclear whether he would actually grip the ball like that while pitching in a game.

The Nationals said today the bullpen session went well, with Scherzer using a modified grip on his fastball. He would typically be scheduled to do it again two days later, though the club has been careful not to put any timetable on his progression, taking it step-by-step and adjusting as needed.

“I’m sure he’s got some pain,” said manager Dusty Baker, who had not yet received a report on Scherzer today. “If he didn’t have some pain, he’d be wide open (to pitch normally). But I hear he’s doing better. As far as I’m concerned, he’s ahead of pace from where I think he was when he first got here. When he first got here, we didn’t know when he was going to start throwing.”

* Michael A. Taylor spent time before batting practice talking to former Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, here in Fort Myers as an instructor, a conversation that was arranged by Nationals assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones (also a former Twins outfielder).

Baker was glad to see the interaction, recalling how retired players from other organizations used to counsel him early in his career.

This is a critical spring for Taylor, who most likely is battling Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo for the final spot on the opening day bench. Only one year ago, he was one of the breakout stars of the Grapefruit League, batting .453 with five homers and a 1.340 OPS. But after getting pressed into the starting center field job after Ben Revere pulled an oblique muscle on opening day, Taylor struggled through the season, finishing with a .231 batting average and .278 on-base percentage.

Baker is giving Taylor a clean slate this year.

“Last spring is over,” the manager said. “Now you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do this spring to make the club. Last spring, everybody was asking how I was going to get Michael Taylor 300 at-bats. And then Ben got hurt the first day of the season. We didn’t even know (Goodwin). There were other guys we didn’t know that came on strong. Michael’s got to play his way back into the upper echelon ranks of our outfielders.”

* Taylor is starting in center field and leading off today as a late replacement for Adam Eaton, who was originally scheduled to make the trip. Baker, though, said he decided to spare Eaton the long round trip from West Palm Beach

“Nothing happened,” Baker said. “I just decided it was quite a ways to be on that bus for three hours. I decided to let him stay home and get some work and then he’ll play the next couple days.”

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