The Nationals took their first big step back to live baseball today with an intrasquad game in the early afternoon at Nats Park.
The highlight was watching three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, in his home white uniform with red numerals and blue trim, on the bump grunting his way through each pitch for three innings, firing 48 pitches.
“He looked good,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez on a Zoom video call. “He threw 48 pitches. We wanted to keep him right at 50, three full innings. But he looked really good. The key now is his turnaround. Let’s see how he feels tomorrow. But he came out of the game and said he felt good. His pitches were pretty sharp for being the first time out facing hitters. I liked it a lot. He liked it. So let’s how he feels tomorrow.”
And it was easy to close your eyes and hear Scherzer grunting through every pitch, the sound echoing through an empty ballpark.
“You’re gonna hear things that people probably don’t get to hear,” Martinez said. “Some good and some bad. It’s gonna be fun. He’s very intense when he goes out there, all the grunting and stuff. He gets fired up. Today he knew we had a sim game, he was pitching at noon, and he was out there at 10:30 just pacing back and forth, trying to get himself psyched up and treating this as if it was a game.”
Eric Thames, Michael A. Taylor, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Emilio Bonifacio, Carter Kieboom and others got multiple at-bats against Scherzer. They also took their hacks against hurlers Kevin Quackenbush, Ryne Harper and Aaron Barrett. The sim game wrapped up a little after 1 p.m.
“The at-bats were really good,” Martinez said. “I loved it. Right now it’s about getting them ready, getting them to see live pitching. But they were all pretty good. We’ve been working pretty diligently to get these guys as many swings as possible in the cage, BP. We’ve got a velo machine that all these guys stand in against that throws pretty hard. We’re getting these guys prepared as quickly as possible. And as you can tell, the intensity was really good.”
Martinez was also impressed seeing some of his speed runners get aggressive on the base paths. Third base coach Chip Hale also talked to his defense on their alignment during and between each inning as if it was a real game.
“Trea, Adam, they’re working on their game,” Martinez said. “They got out there and they tried to steal bases. A lot of guys scored from first base today, which is kind of nice. They were all really good. Thames, he’s awesome. He fits right in with the group. He likes to have fun, and he’s going to do big things for us.”
Kieboom got a chance to step in against Scherzer a couple of times and enjoyed the experience. It reminded him of the first time he matched up against the Nats ace three seasons ago.
“Awesome,” Kieboom said on a Zoom video call. “I saw him once in 2017, my very first spring training. Same outcome as today, I struck out. It was good. He looks really sharp right now, really, really sharp. It’s day one of seeing some live pitching and to see guys of that status day one is going to help us out tremendously in this league.
“I like to play defense behind those guys, that’s for sure. They look really, really good today. I got to see a few different types of pitchers with different stuff and how they attack hitters. It was nice to get the different variables from their stuff back out there.”
It has been almost four months since Scherzer last threw to batters in a game. Martinez said the veteran right-hander looked to be in midseason form. Midseason, of course, is where we’d be right now if this was a normal season.
“For me, just getting out there and seeing the boys together and playing the sim game was fun,” Martinez said. “It was baseball. Watching Max do what he does was a lot of fun, too. They’re all starting to get things right, getting together and getting ready to play at the end of the month.”