Though he says his injured groin has made significant progress in each of the last three days, Max Scherzer does not believe it would be smart for him to make his scheduled start Wednesday against the Pirates. The question now is whether the Nationals decide to place their ace on the 10-day injured list or try to get by for a few days and hope he can pitch later in the week.
Scherzer went through some aggressive agility drills this afternoon before batting practice at Nationals Park, testing his groin, and came away encouraged enough to say he could attempt to throw off the bullpen mound. He had asserted all along he would need to be able to complete that bullpen session without fear of further injury in order to start Wednesday as scheduled.
That session, though, was cut short after about 10 pitches, once Scherzer realized he couldn’t drive off the mound as much as he needs to in a game.
“After about 10 pitches, you just knew it’s not going to get better,” the 36-year-old right-hander said during an on-field interview with reporters afterward. “It’s not going to loosen up. I was able to run, do everything else. It’s just throwing a baseball and how I use my legs. The groin is critical to how I do that. It’s just not allowing me to fully get through the baseball yet.”
Scherzer, who had to come out of Friday night’s start against the Giants after only 12 pitches, does not know yet if he’ll need to go on the 10-day IL. He’s confident he’ll be ready to return in “days, not weeks,” but Nationals manager Davey Martinez might not be able to afford to proceed with a depleted pitching staff until then and may feel they have no choice but to take him off the active roster.
If he goes on the IL, Scherzer would be eligible to return June 22 versus the Phillies. If he can avoid that transaction, he could potentially start this weekend against the Mets.
“Now the ball’s in Davey’s court,” the pitcher said. “It’s in their court now. Whatever they decide, however they want to proceed.”
Scherzer did say he probably could pitch Wednesday if he absolutely had to, and maybe if the calendar showed August or September instead of June, he might be more apt to take the chance. But he understands that pushing himself now might jeopardize far more starts down the road.
“This is just something you can’t pitch through,” he said. “I’ve pitched through a lot of other things, found a way to do a lot of other stuff. But this one you just can’t get around.”
That said, Scherzer also believes there’s risk in shutting down completely right now until the groin is fully healed. He’ll continue to throw on flat ground as much as possible until he starts again, and he’ll hope to be back pitching soon enough that he doesn’t need to make a rehab start in the minors or throw a simulated game against hitters.
“The other risk in this is, if you don’t pitch, you take too much time off from pitching, then your arm can get tired,” he said. “And as you try to ramp back up, you can hurt your shoulder. You want to get back out there. There’s risk to not pitching. So there was an incentive for me to go ahead and make the start. But it’s just not worth it.”
The Nationals haven’t announced any formal pitching plans yet, but if Scherzer can’t go Wednesday, Paolo Espino appears to be the likely choice to start the series finale against the Pirates. The journeyman right-hander threw 50 pitches in emergency relief of Scherzer on Friday night against the Giants and would be on full rest.