SAN DIEGO - Max Scherzer has been through this before. Only two weeks ago, as a matter of fact. Which is why the right-hander was massively annoyed but also confident that his inability to start tonight at Petco Park due to inflammation in his neck isn’t cause for major concern.
“It’s just frustrating,” he said following the Nationals’ 7-1 win over the Padres, made possible by nine innings from six relievers. “I can sit here and laugh at it, because I know what the cause of this is and I know it’s not anything serious. Look, last time I went through this, next time I was out there I was at 114 pitches. I fully intend for that to be the case again on Friday.”
Friday is when Scherzer will be eligible to come off the 10-day disabled list - the Nationals were allowed to backdate the transaction the maximum three days to make that possible - and he insists he’ll be good to go for that start against the Mets at Nationals Park.
That said, Scherzer’s second neck scare in 18 days surely caused some panic within the organization and within a fan base that is sick and tired of getting news about Nationals player after player landing on the DL right now.
The league’s reigning Cy Young Award winner had to leave his Aug. 1 start in Miami after one inning due to stiffness in the right side of his neck, the result of sleeping on it awkwardly a few nights before. And he wasn’t even able to make tonight’s start in San Diego when he experienced the same stiffness in the left side of his neck, the result of the same sleeping problem earlier this week.
Scherzer said he arrived at the ballpark this afternoon hoping he would feel well enough to make the start, but after feeling uncomfortable taking early batting practice - part of his normal routine on days he starts - he notified the club. He then attempted to play catch but immediately realized he wouldn’t be able to pitch.
“Honestly, I feel exactly like I did after that Miami start, when I came out of there,” Scherzer said. “The Miami start, it was the right side of the upper trap, that C5 T1 spot. This is the exact same thing, except on the left side. Left side, left trap. And so I hate to sound like a broken record, but same cause: Slept on it wrong.”
Scherzer was able to quickly recover from the previous injury via a combination of anti-inflammatory medication, exercise and a chiropractic adjustment. He avoided the DL and returned to the mound six days later, tossing seven strong innings against the Marlins in D.C., throwing 114 pitches. Six days later, he went seven innings again vs. the Giants, striking out 10 while throwing 107 pitches.
Throughout the last two weeks, Scherzer said he had been taking his medication and doing neck exercises. But he admitted he didn’t do the exercises this week, likely contributing to the new ailment.
“This is my own fault,” he said. “Look, I was feeling good after this last start. And I know it’s an excuse, and I hate excuses, but I forgot to do the neck exercises during this go-around. And I know it sounds stupid but it happened, and for whatever reason this came back. Just need to stay on top of my program.”
Scherzer insists this latest ailment wasn’t directly caused by the earlier one. He also believed he could have avoided only the second DL stint of his career - he missed the first 10 days of the 2009 season with the Diamondbacks while dealing with a sore right shoulder - and come back to pitch sooner, but agreed with the Nationals’ decision to make the transaction now and ensure another pitcher could join the staff Saturday.
“I get why they’re doing it,” he said. “They’re able to get an extra roster spot while I go on here. But I’m frustrated that this reoccurred and I’m not able to pitch.”
“Max wasn’t crazy about it,” manager Dusty Baker said. “But he understood it. Cause nobody wants to go on the DL, especially your first time on the DL (in eight years). But he understood what we needed. He had to do it for the team, and Max is certainly a team guy. He realized it was for the betterment of the team and his own health.”