WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Oh, yeah, there actually was some baseball being practiced around here today. It kind of got lost in the shuffle of the Nationals opening their title defense while the Astros tried to defend themselves, but pitchers and catchers took the fields outside FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches for the first time in 2020.
And that meant Max Scherzer took the mound in front of the public for the first time in 2020. Which is always a must-see event.
Scherzer actually reports to Florida five weeks before the official reporting date and begins to build up his arm. So he was ready to do more today than the vast majority of his teammates. But it’s still striking to see how much more he does on day one.
Scherzer’s bullpen session lasted 23 minutes, nearly twice as long as anyone else. He threw 56 pitches. He grunted. He sweated. He cursed for the first time in the 16th minute after unleashing a pitch with less-than-perfect execution.
“I feel good, right where I need to be,” the ace said afterward. “It’s good to throw off the mound, up the intensity. Right where I need to be for a first bullpen.”
“He’s at 56 pitches, the other starting pitchers are at 35-40,” manager Davey Martinez said. “His next outing, who knows? He might try to throw 70.”
If there was any thought Scherzer might take things easier this winter after pitching straight through the end of October, the answer was on display today. He always sets a target date of Dec. 1 to begin his throwing program, and he said he hit that target this winter after doctors cleared him of any physical restrictions following his string of back and neck injuries late in the 2019 season.
For Scherzer, who previously pitched in the 2012 World Series for the Tigers, everything has gone according to plan.
“I’ve done it before. I know my routine,” he said. “I know the routine for the offseason to get ready for the next season. And I’m right where I need to be going into 2020.”
Scherzer may not have done anything differently today than he has on the first day of prior springs, but the Nationals coaching staff is making one significant tweak for pitchers this year. Instead of having everyone throw off the mound every other day, the staff has been broken into three groups, giving each pitcher two off-days between throwing sessions.
Scherzer was joined today by Joe Ross, Sean Doolittle, Hunter Strickland, Will Harris, Aaron Barrett, Kyle Finnegan, Austen Williams, Kevin Quackenbush, James Bourque, Dakota Bacus and Bryan Bonnell. Tomorrow’s scheduled throwers are Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Austin Voth, Erick Fedde, Tanner Rainey, Roenis Elías, Javy Guerra, Paulo Espino, Jhonatan German, Derek Self and Ryne Harper.
Everyone else is scheduled to throw off the mound Saturday.
“We talked about how we can slow them down a little bit,” Martinez said. “That’s how we did it. Other than that, the work is going to be the same. I truly believe in quality, not quantity.”