PHILADELPHIA - You wouldn’t think there’s anything special about Max Scherzer taking the mound later today at Citizens Bank Park, his first start of the season.
That’s no real accomplishment, right?
“It’s a major accomplishment,” Scherzer insisted.
Well, yes, considering what it took to ensure the Nationals ace would be ready to pitch a big league game in the first week of the season.
“You’ve got to remember, the first time I picked up a baseball was the first day of spring,” he said. “So that’s six weeks behind the bare minimum of where I’m at. The fact I was able to at least keep my arm going, to not have that Day 1. I thought I was going to be in that two-weeks-behind window. But I was able to long toss, get through all my programs, get through the programs. And here I am.”
Here he is, not missing a turn in the rotation despite the fact he spent the winter recovering from a stress fracture in his right ring finger, despite the fact he was unable to throw fastballs with a standard two-fingered grip until late March, despite the fact he made only three exhibition starts this spring.
Scherzer’s good to go now, with no real lingering concerns about his finger. But don’t think there weren’t concerns along the way.
The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner had legitimate reason to worry he would be opening the season on the disabled list.
“Yeah, just from the simple fact that I didn’t get to my throwing program (over the winter),” he said. “Not that the injury was going to linger into the season. I just wasn’t able to get into my throwing program. But I was able to accomplish every goal I needed to do, be on the mound, throw all the pitches. Everything feels good. Everything’s checked out.”
There were two key developments this spring that made this possible. First, Scherzer was able to continue throwing with a three-fingered grip, allowing him to build up his arm without actually pitching in games. Second, he was able to return to his regular grip in time to make three exhibition starts, giving him just enough time to build up the necessary pitch count to now start regular season games.
“I’m good to throw 100 pitches (today),” he said. “That’s what’s so exciting about where I was at to where I am now. I’m going to be able to compete in this first turn of the rotation.”
Scherzer’s season debut comes in his team’s fourth game. That’s not when you expect the staff ace to pitch. This ace, though, insists it wasn’t awkward watching the last three games from the dugout.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’m so happy to be taking the ball. We have a great team. There’s so many great arms that can go out and win ballgames. It was fun to watch these guys. I was going to watch these other four guys pitch at some point anyways. So it doesn’t matter having to watch them first.”