WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Max Scherzer threw off a mound for the first time this spring Tuesday morning, using all of his pitches - but still a three-fingered grip on his fastball to protect the slow-healing fractured knuckle on his right ring finger.
The 44-pitch live batting practice session was caught by Matt Wieters and watched carefully by Nationals manager Dusty Baker and general manager Mike Rizzo. Minor leaguers Spencer Kieboom, Carter Kieboom, Yadiel Hernandez, Nick Banks, Raudy Read and Sheldon Neuse got their cuts in, with very little solid contact made, save for Read’s well-struck liner to left that caromed off the fence netting.
“It felt good,” Scherzer said. “It felt good to actually get out there and face hitters, have them swing at stuff. Going through my routine and warming up in between innings. That’s all fun.”
Though he didn’t experience any pain in the affected knuckle, Scherzer continued throwing his fastball with a three-fingered grip, as he has during previous long toss and throwing sessions. Neither he nor Wieters noticed any difference in his fastball with the modified grip.
“It looked good to me,” Wieters said. “It comes out of his hands well and it has good carry. That’s about all you can tell now. No radar gun out there.”
The three-fingered approach is necessary to prevent any further damage to the fractured knuckle. And the fastball is the only pitch the right-hander has had to tinker with.
“It’s really just the fastball, just that angle, that grip - that’s what puts all the stress on that part of my hand, that part of my finger,” Scherzer said. “When I get it out of there with three fingers, I don’t have that stress any more. The way I look at it, it gave me a chance to heal and throw. Because if they didn’t let me do this, then I’d be sitting here trying to test the two-fingered grip, left and right, and probably hurting it even more. If you let me throw with three fingers, I’m actually healing.”
Adding the third finger makes the grip more similar to that used on a changeup, but Scherzer isn’t seeing the pitch react differently.
“The way it’s resting on there, I do feel like it’s coming out pretty good,” he said. “Whenever I do get in a game or whenever we get out there again, that’ll be a telltale sign of where I’m at.”
Today’s session included some wildness - overthrown balls that flew out of the strike zone and a couple that bounced in the dirt. Wieters said that was because it’s still relatively early in Scherzer’s process of regaining his strength and command.
“I think, early in the spring, he’s learning how to pitch through when he’s tired, and he knows that,” Wieters said. “He actually enjoys when he gets a little tired in his bullpen or work session and it makes him work harder.”
While Scherzer was pleased with how he threw, he has no idea what the next step in his recovery will be. It all depends on how he feels tomorrow, and then the whole process resets.
“This is where you just got to play it day by day and see how I feel tomorrow,” he said. “You can’t get ahead of yourself and say what happens next. That’s literally why I keep reiterating everything’s day by day. Just got to see how I feel tomorrow and then make a decision after that.”