WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Modern pitchers have had it drilled into their heads from the moment they become professionals. Take days off. Don’t throw too much. Especially in the offseason. Give the arm time to recover before you ramp it up again.
Koda Glover tried that, and all it got him was two mostly wasted seasons dealing with a rotator cuff injury. So this winter, after he had just made it through the second half of the season healthy, the Nationals reliever decided to try something different at the advice of someone who knows a thing or two about staying healthy: Max Scherzer.
“My generation was: ‘You take three months off, and it’s good for you,’” Glover said. “Well, talking to Max, it’s: ‘No, you gotta keep your arm going.’ So once-to-three times a week, I’d pick a ball up, or a football or a rock, something, and just throw. And it responded well.”
Scherzer, who has made at least 30 starts in each of his 10 full big league seasons, is known for his extensive winter workout regimen. He didn’t do it his first few seasons in the majors, because he was told not to do that. Then he began throwing year-round in 2013, which just so happens to be the year he won his first Cy Young Award, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“Think about that: That’s the only time in my life I’ve ever not thrown a ball or done anything,” Scherzer said of the early portion of his career. “Even when I was 6 years old. You go around, you throw things year-round. It’s amazing: When you use your arm, it doesn’t hurt. For me, playing catch two times a week, going out to 70 feet ... that allows my arm to never completely shut down and keeps the flexibility. It works. Every Jan. 1, I’m able to get to 90 feet. I’m able to get to my program. My arm feels good.”
Glover took Scherzer’s message to heart, tried it out himself, and here he is in West Palm Beach feeling as strong as he has in quite some time.
“I didn’t put the ball down,” he said. “I threw all offseason, and I responded really well to it.”
It’s such a stark contrast from the last two seasons, during which Glover never seemed to be 100 percent. He missed much of 2017 with the rotator cuff injury, then upon reporting for spring training last February had to shut it down almost immediately when the shoulder pain resurfaced.
“The past two years have kind of been like a mystery,” he said. “There were some questions: ‘Why is this even going on?’ But honestly just learning my body and learning how to take care of it, and learning from those guys how to take care of myself throughout the year, it really helped.”
Glover finally returned to pitching competitively last July, when he joined the bullpen at Triple-A Syracuse. One month later, he was in the bullpen in Washington, thrown into the fire trying to help out a group that had been decimated by injuries, disappointing performances and the trades of several veterans.
The results were of the roller-coaster variety. Glover pitched out of some big jams in Chicago, then the next night served up a walk-off homer to Paul DeJong in St. Louis. He rebounded later in that series to record his first save, then took a 10th-inning loss to the Marlins a few days after that.
It might have been fairer to Glover had he been eased into the fray a bit more, but manager Davey Martinez had no choice given his bullpen options at that point in the season. Besides, Glover appreciated the vote of confidence.
“When have I ever pitched in a low-leverage situation? That’s what I like,” he said. “I told Davey: ‘Hey, I really respect you putting me in that situation.’ Because he had faith in me. There were a couple times I got it done for us. And there were a couple times I didn’t. That’s just part of it.”
Glover, 25, is assured of nothing this spring. The Nationals would love for him to both prove he’s healthy and prove he’s ready to be a permanent member of their bullpen. But he needs to go out there and actually show it on a consistent basis. He believes he’s ready for the challenge, thanks to some sage advice from a three-time Cy Young Award winner who knows about offseason conditioning but also about pitching mentality.
“In St. Louis, I gave up that walk-off to DeJong,” Glover said. “He got me there. But I got him back at home. I think that’s something I’ve also learned from Max: ‘When somebody gets you, next time you face them make sure you get them back.’”