Max Scherzer spent a grand total of 20 days on the injured list in his first 11 1/2 seasons as a big league pitcher. Among all his other achievements during a potential Hall of Fame career, his ability to take the ball every turn through the rotation for more than a decade stood out as especially rare in today’s game.
Now a lingering back injury is guaranteed to keep the Nationals ace sidelined at least 26 total days in the span of a month, all during a critical portion of the season in which his team is trying to catch the division-leading Braves.
Scherzer was placed back on the 10-day IL today, unable to make it back from his ailment to face Atlanta for the second time in two weeks.
Scherzer, who has dealt with lingering back issues since late June, was placed on the IL this time with a “mild rhomboid strain,” according to the club. The move is retroactive to July 26, which means Scherzer will be eligible to return Aug. 5.
“But that’s not by any means a target date,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We just want him to be 100 percent. I told him: ‘Build yourself back up, and when you’re ready to throw a bullpen we’ll see how it goes and then go from there.’ “
Right-hander Erick Fedde was recalled from Double-A Harrisburg to fill Scherzer’s spot on the roster and will start Tuesday against the Braves in his place.
Scherzer already spent 16 days on the IL earlier this month with what at the time was classified as a “mid-back strain.” That diagnosis was later amended to an inflamed bursa sac underneath his shoulder blade, and Scherzer received a cortisone shot that relieved the pain and allowed him to return to start last Thursday against the Rockies.
Scherzer lasted only five innings, allowing three runs, and though he said he felt fine physically, he also said he wouldn’t know for sure until he woke up the following morning. Sure enough, he felt tightness on Friday morning, and an MRI revealed the rhomboid muscle strain.
“The first time, it was just bursa inflammation,” Martinez said. “And now he has a strain of the rhomboid muscle. Could it be related? Yeah, it’s in the same vicinity. But I know they’re treating it as something different.”
Scherzer got a stem cell injection for that rhomboid strain and was hopeful he’d be good to resume throwing in two days. But he has yet to be able to do that, and so the Nationals scrapped plans to start him Tuesday against the Braves.
Now the club has to decide how quickly to try to rush Scherzer back from an injury that hasn’t dissipated as quickly as everyone hoped.
“We’re going to build up strength and see,” Martinez said. “But Max could show up tomorrow and say he feels really good. Right now we just want him to understand: Let’s just take our time and get it right so this doesn’t continue being an issue.”
Scherzer walked through the clubhouse briefly this afternoon but didn’t stop to talk to reporters.
“He’s not a happy camper,” Martinez said. “He wants to be out there competing. So this is kind of a tough deal for him. But I told him: ‘We’ll get you right. You’ve got to stay positive. We’ll get you right, get you back out there and you’ll be right in the thick of things again.’ “