Which is the real issue, to be honest. Scherzer may believe he’s ready to return from the injured list this weekend, but he may be at the mercy of the Nationals’ medical and coaching staffs.
“It’ll come down to me and the medical staff, yeah,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Like I said, we’re going to be very conscious, and we’ll see where we’re at. The good news is that he feels really, really good. He woke up this morning and didn’t feel anything. Normal soreness as he was pitching, which is great.”
Scherzer, who has made only one start since July 6 due to a pair of upper back injuries, emerged from Tuesday’s two-inning simulated game feeling strong. The ace insisted all along the better indication of his health would come the day after he threw, so he was especially encouraged to feel strong again today and be able to play catch as he normally would the day after he pitches.
“I haven’t been on the mound for so long that to be able to come in today and have it not get worse, that was the biggest thing,” Scherzer said. “And have it get better. The fact it actually got better, that shows you that now you’re in the natural progression of: OK, I’m throwing two innings, where I’m at there, I’m healing up and I’m recovering well. Throwing two innings in a game situation ... I feel like I’m able to pitch in a game.”
What kind of game? And when? The Nationals could send Scherzer on a brief minor league rehab assignment to build up his arm more. That would be standard procedure for a starter who spent this much time on the injured list. But both Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg are on the road this weekend, so that doesn’t create an ideal scenario for a rehab appearance.
Besides, Scherzer insists he doesn’t need to pitch anywhere else before he pitches against a major league lineup. He doesn’t even believe he needs to throw a typical between-starts bullpen session, which was initially planned for Thursday.
“No, I’m good to go,” he said. “I’ve thrown a ‘pen, threw in a sim game. The pitches feel there. Throwing a bullpen’s not going to make any difference. You just got to get in a game and get a feel for everything.”
For now, the Nationals are listing a starter only for Friday’s series opener against the Brewers: Patrick Corbin. They’re leaving Saturday and Sunday’s starters as “TBA” for now. Aníbal Sánchez, who has been following Corbin in the rotation, would be on normal rest for Saturday night’s game, but it appears the Nats are leaving that open in case they believe Scherzer is ready.
They’re also trying to decide if Scherzer would benefit from at least one or two extra days of rest.
“Right, and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about here in a little bit,” Martinez said.
Because he only threw 32 pitches in Tuesday’s simulated game (after 31 warm-up pitches in the bullpen), Scherzer will be restricted in his workload wherever and whenever he next takes the mound. Even if he starts against the Brewers, he would be limited to perhaps four or five innings and 60 or 70 pitches.
“When he comes back, we’re going to build him up and be very cautious of how much he throws and how much he sits down,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing is his up-and-downs and his recovery in between when he throws. So we have to be really conscious of that.”
Scherzer insisted he’s on board with that cautious plan. He also insists he’s ready to proceed with that plan and take the mound in a Nationals uniform ASAP.
“I want to pitch in the big leagues,” he said. “I think I’m ready to pitch in the big leagues.”