Max Scherzer emerged from a simulated game at Nationals Park this afternoon feeling “really good,” perhaps good enough to convince club officials to let the ace return from the injured list without facing live hitters again.
That determination won’t be made for a few more days, not until Scherzer has a chance to see how his upper back recovers from today’s two-inning-plus session and he attempts to throw off a mound again Thursday.
But the fact it’s even being considered is extremely encouraging news for the Nationals, who have seen the three-time Cy Young Award winner pitch only once in the last 5 1/2 weeks.
“Just seeing him throw in the sim game, I was a little amped up myself that he’s another step closer to recovering and coming back,” manager Davey Martinez said. “That’s a good sign. I’m going to worry about the game today, focus on the game, and then hopefully tomorrow we get good news and he feels good.”
Scherzer strolled out to the right field bullpen at Nationals Park around 2:30 p.m. and went through his typical pregame warm-up routine, throwing 31 pitches off the mound. He then walked back to the home dugout and after a couple minutes trotted out to the mound, with teammate Aníbal Sánchez playing his regular walk-up song (“Still D.R.E.”) on a portable sound system.
Scherzer faced three veteran hitters (Howie Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman, Gerardo Parra), throwing 32 pitches across two simulated innings, with a full break in between to account for the “bottom of the first.” He treated each at-bat as though it was real, with pitching coach Paul Menhart calling balls and strikes from behind the mound. He recorded a couple of strikeouts, issued one walk and surrendered a home run to Zimmerman (though only after he got the injured first baseman to pop out and told him to stay in the box for another pitch).
Oh, and when Parra stepped up to bat, Sánchez played “Baby Shark” on his sound system.
After another inning break, Scherzer returned to the mound for the theoretical top of the third but made only eight warmup tosses and then returned to the dugout, where he doled out fist bumps to Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard.
“When they have a sim game, typically we tell them: ‘Hey, we want you to go out there like it’s a real game,’ ” Martinez said. “But he was good. Lathered up, ready to go, came out of the bullpen fired up. Typical Max.”
Scherzer, who didn’t meet with reporters afterward, has said throughout his recovery process that it matters less how he felt on the mound than how he feels the day after pitching. That makes Wednesday the most significant day of the week.
If he emerges feeling normal, he’ll throw a light bullpen session Thursday. And if that goes well, he would be on track to pitch again Sunday.
The question then becomes where he pitches Sunday, and against whom. Even if healthy, Scherzer has missed enough time to require him to build his arm back up. Typically, a team would have a pitcher in this situation make a rehab start or two for a minor league affiliate. Neither Double-A Harrisburg nor Single-A Potomac is home Sunday, though Harrisburg is playing in Richmond.
The Nationals could instead have Scherzer throw another simulated game against teammates, building up to perhaps four full innings. Or they could decide to activate him and have him face the Brewers in the finale of their weekend series.
Martinez didn’t rule out that final possibility, though he stressed Scherzer would have a limited pitch count.
“If we decided to pitch him in a game, it wouldn’t be 100 pitches right away. I can tell you that right now,” the manager said. “We’ve really got to be very careful where we’re at with him right now. This is to get him through the rest of the season, and then some.”