Spring training injuries are nothing new for Max Scherzer. Remember the fractured knuckle that forced him to temporarily throw his fastball with a three-finger grip in 2017? Or the sore right side that cropped up last spring as a result of mechanical changes he made?
So Scherzer’s newest spring ailment - a sprained left ankle suffered two weeks ago - is merely the latest on the list. And if the 36-year-old ace is to be believed, this one won’t have any long-lasting negative effects, just as the previous ones didn’t.
“I’ve had to do different spring trainings like this before, where you’re coming in with something,” the right-hander said today from West Palm Beach, Fla., during his first Zoom session of the spring with reporters. “I had the broken knuckle before, so I know what it’s like to be under a different set of kind of circumstances for spring training when it’s not normal.”
Scherzer said this injury occurred while he was running two weeks ago in preparation for the official start of camp. In his mind, it’s a simple ankle sprain.
“It is what it is. I’ve had this before,” he said. “I had the doctors all look at it, and they all think the ankle is fine, especially long-term. I’ve just been dealing with some inflammation in the joint, kind of lost some mobilization in the ankle, and that’s kind of been the problem. So that’s prohibiting me from getting off the mound.”
Indeed, Scherzer hasn’t been able to pitch off a bullpen mound since suffering the injury. He does, however, say his arm remains in great shape. And that should allow him to slide right back into drills once he’s cleared to return.
“Fortunately, through all this, I’ve been able to keep my strength up, and my arm is ready to go,” he said. “So as soon as I can get that mobility back in the ankle, I’ll be off the mound here pretty soon. I don’t see this as a long-term injury.”
Scherzer has been forced to make adjustments to his spring training prep schedule before, as noted. He was ready to go in 2017 despite the knuckle issue. And though his return from last year’s side ailment was halted by the suspension of all spring training activities due to the pandemic, it had no lingering effect on him.
Still, it’s not surprising these little aches and pains are cropping up for Scherzer as his career enters a new stage. He’s now in his 14th big league season, his seventh with the Nationals. The days of a pain-free 33-start season are long gone. He has been forced to deal with physical ailments - small and occasionally large - more and more.
That doesn’t change his preparation for the upcoming season, though.
“The biggest thing is just knowing where your body is at and where your arm is at,” he said. “That’s the most important thing. Knowing what your arm feels like and being able to get off the mound, get your work in, and most importantly, recover so your arm feels good the next day. So when you hit those checkmarks, that’s when you can increase your workload. That’s the same thing I’ll be doing this year, hopefully here sooner rather than later.”
It’s hard to believe this is the final year of Scherzer’s then-record-setting $210 million contract. Many around the sport thought the Nationals were taking a huge risk making that kind of commitment to a 30-year-old pitcher who really had only blossomed into an ace the two previous seasons with the Tigers.
Now, Scherzer’s deal is widely regarded as one of the best free agent contracts in baseball history. He’s won two Cy Young Awards with the Nationals and finished in the top three in voting twice more. He’s averaged 32 starts, 210 innings, 274 strikeouts and a 2.74 ERA in the five full major league seasons that have been played since he arrived here and made all 12 of his scheduled starts during the shortened 2020 campaign.
All of that leaves everyone wondering if Scherzer and the Nationals will commit to each other for even more time together after this season.
Just don’t expect any firm answers from the ace yet. He’s not ready to delve too deep into that subject.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m pretty good about tuning all this crap out. For me, it’s just show up to the park and win. Come in and do your job, and all the contract stuff takes care of itself.”