WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Max Scherzer finally knows what his next assignment will be, and it’ll look and feel a lot like how he most recently tested the slow-healing fractured knuckle on his right ring finger.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker said after Thursday’s 2-2 tie with the Marlins that the right-hander will throw another session of live batting practice Sunday morning, before the Nats host the Astros at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
“Live BP, same thing,” Baker said. “As long as he faces hitters, it really doesn’t matter what the format is. We just want him to have hitters in the box.”
Scherzer threw a 44-pitch live BP session Tuesday morning, with Baker, pitching coach Mike Maddux and general manager Mike Rizzo in attendance. The righty faced a half-dozen minor leaguers and came out of the exercise unscathed.
Baker isn’t sure of how much more Scherzer will pitch this time, but he expects him to go more than the equivalent of the two innings he threw Tuesday.
“The last time, he went two. I would imagine he would go maybe three this time,” Baker said. “It depends on his pitch count. It all depends on his pitch count.”
Should Scherzer make it through Sunday’s scheduled live batting practice with no problems, he could move on to a simulated game or even make his Grapefruit League debut. Scherzer said Tuesday that he threw without pain, though he was still using a modified three-fingered grip on his fastball in order to protect the fractured knuckle instead of the traditional two-fingered grip.
Regardless of how long Scherzer throws on Sunday or when he finally pitches in an exhibition game, the finite timeframe to prepare him to be part of the rotation that will start the season is dwindling away.
Maddux said Tuesday that he would prefer to keep Scherzer on a traditional timeline once he begins pitching in exhibition games. That means a start of a couple of innings, followed by a progression in workload over several starts to get Scherzer ready to go deep into a game.
Asked at what point Scherzer is no longer an option to start on opening day, Baker sounded this afternoon like he was already preparing for that inevitability.
“Well, we’ve been thinking that all along, sort of,” Baker said. “But we’re preparing for that. I mean, it’s hard to count Max out. It just depends on how he progresses the next few weeks. But if not, then we got a couple other candidates that are pretty good, too. So we’re glad that he’s made the progress that he’s made.”