Scherzer not concerned about neck: "This will come and go"

MIAMI - Max Scherzer spent a good portion of his postgame session with reporters laughing and bragging about the three-run homer he launched in the top of the second inning tonight at Marlins Park.

The fact he was able to do that should tell you how little he's worried about the reason he had to remove himself from the game in the bottom of the second: neck spasms.

Scherzer-Dejected-Gray-Injured-Sidebar.jpg"I slept on it wrong," the Nationals ace said in the verbal equivalent of a shoulder shrug. "Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you have a crick in your neck. That's what it is. Like I said, I've had this in the past. You just have to take your pills, take your drugs, take your anti-inflammatories, get some rest and just get treatment. This will come and go."

The Nationals - who wound up blowing a six-run lead in a 7-6 loss - can only breathe a sigh of relief and hope Scherzer is right after the momentary scare of the season when the league's reigning Cy Young Award winner threw one errant warmup toss before the bottom of the second and immediately walked off the mound. He made a throat-slashing movement with his hand and told manager Dusty Baker: "I can't go."

Was Baker worried it was something far more serious?

"Yeah, because he just walked off," the manager said. "He didn't wait for us to get there."

The scene may have given everyone else a scare, but Scherzer knew from the outset his neck wasn't feeling right. He said he woke up Monday morning in his Miami hotel with a "crick" in his neck, something he had experienced before but not the day before a scheduled start.

He had been receiving treatment since and felt he was fine to pitch tonight, though he admitted he didn't feel 100 percent in the bullpen during his warmup.

Even so, Scherzer cruised through the bottom of the first, retiring the Marlins in order on 10 pitches. And then when his spot in the order came up in the top of the second, he got to experience a first in a career that has featured countless memorable moments.

With two on and one out, Scherzer fell behind in the count 0-2. He began to show bunt but knew he'd be pulling his bat back and taking a slash at left-hander Chris O'Grady's pitch. The next thing you knew, Scherzer had belted that pitch 381 feet to left field, clearing the visitors' bullpen and the Clevelander bar for his first home run since ... ?

"Oh, high school," he said. "A long time ago."

How exactly did Scherzer club a home run with a bad neck?

"The thing with having a tight neck, not being able to look left, it actually helped on my baseball swing," he said. "I actually couldn't pull my head out. I had to stay locked in, and that gave me a better swing. So sure enough that's the reason why I hit a home run."

With a look of absolute shock on his face, Scherzer rounded the bases in triumph, then returned to the dugout, where teammates initially gave him the silent treatment before mobbing him and offering high fives.

Once the celebration died down, Scherzer could be seen in the dugout twisting his neck with a look of discomfort.

"Giving everybody high fives, I was like: 'Guys, it hurts right now!'" he said. "But it all went away for just a second when I got into the dugout and everybody wanted to give a high five. I knew I was kind of in trouble in between innings there. I could feel it tightening up. I was going to put some Red Hot on it, going to try to keep it as loose as possible. But I went back out there and felt it tighter. That's when you've got to come out of the game."

Scherzer took the mound for the bottom of the second and threw only one warmup pitch. It sailed well to catcher Matt Wieters' right, reaching the backstop. Before it landed, the pitcher was already walking off the mound and making the throat-slash motion, declaring his start over after only one inning.

"Once I felt that," he said, "I knew it was time to just pull the chute."

Forced to turn to his bullpen in the second inning, Baker watched as the trio of Matt Grace, Sammy Solís and Matt Albers gave up seven runs in four innings to erase a 6-0 lead. Oliver Pérez and Joe Blanton combined to post three zeros after that and keep the deficit at one, but the Nationals lineup was shut out in six innings against Miami's bullpen.

Which leaves that relief corps a bit worn down heading into Wednesday's series finale. The Nationals will need A.J. Cole (who is being promoted from Triple-A Syracuse for a start necessitated by Sunday's doubleheader in D.C.) to provide innings, no matter what. They'll get a new reinforcement in Brandon Kintzler, who after his acquisition from the Twins is scheduled to join the roster. And they'll have a fresh Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, along with any other relievers who weren't extended too much tonight.

"Fortunately for us, we got a day off Thursday," Baker said. "So we got a couple guys that are relatively fresh."

When will Scherzer make his next start? It's possible, if everything progresses smoothly, he could be back as soon as Sunday in Chicago. The Nationals, who lead the division by 13 games, might elect to take a more cautious route, just as they are doing with Stephen Strasburg's seemingly minor elbow injury.

Regardless, if you trust Scherzer's upbeat demeanor postgame, the Nationals appear to have dodged a major bullet tonight. Their ace was done in not by a bad arm, but a bad pillow.

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