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Washington Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer battled injuries, won 2017 NL Cy Young... What’s next?

Washington Nationals’ catcher Matt Wieters learned a lot about Max Scherzer in their first season together in D.C.

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer talked during this week’s MLB Network broadcast of the 2017 Cy Young announcement, before he’d won his second straight and third career Cy Young award, about the injury issues that plagued him throughout the last season.

“I felt like I had nagging injuries the whole year,” Scherzer explained, “and it was just a matter of trying to fight through them the whole year just to stay on the mound.”

Scherzer’s season started slowly in Spring Training as he waited for a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger to heal and he dealt with neck, calf, and hamstring issues over the course of the summer.

“Some of those things were kind of out of my control,” Scherzer said, “... and it’s one those things you’ve just got to do your work in the training room and keep going out there and even if you’re not quite 100%, just go out there and take the ball and give it everything you’ve got.”

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In a conference call with reporters after he was named the 2017 NL Cy Young winner, Scherzer thanked the Nationals’ training staff for helping him stay on the mound for 31 starts and 200 23 innings, over which he was (16-6) with a 2.51 ERA, a 2.90 FIP, 55 walks (2.47 BB/9), 268 Ks (12.02 K/9), and a .177/.247/.319 line against, leading the NL in strikeouts, WHIP (0.90), opponents’ batting average (.177), opponents’ OPS (.566), and fWAR (6.0), and finishing second in ERA (2.51), K/9 (12.02) and opponents’ OBP (.247).

“I dealt with a lot of injuries that maybe weren’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” Scherzer said after he was named the NL Cy Young winner again, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“Everyone had a role in keeping me on the field, and I’m very grateful for all their hard work. Without their hard work, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Winning a second straight Cy Young in a season in which he dealt with those issues did, he said, make it somewhat sweeter.

“Considering when you go all the way back to Spring Training,” he said, “I was behind the entire time. I didn’t even think I was going to start the season on time, and the fact that we were able to rush through it and be able to start the season basically on time, we were so thankful for that.”

Scherzer’s catcher, Matt Wieters, who was behind the plate for 25 of 31 starts in their first season together in D.C., was impressed with the right-hander’s durability in spite of the injuries.

“The fact that he was still not feeling anywhere close to 100% for a good many of his starts,” Wieter said in an MLB Network Radio interview this week, “... it shows just the kind of mental fortitude he has to be able to go through a season like that.”

Wieters, who was 7 for 26 (.269 AVG) against Scherzer before the two joined forces this season, was asked what he learned about the right-hander that he didn’t know before.

“I knew how good he was even facing him,” Wieter said, “but catching him you get a good glimpse at the preparation that he puts into it to where you’re realizing there aren’t many hitters that are going to be even close to as prepared or more prepared than he is going into a game, which is — he realizes not only does he have good stuff, but he has to do a lot of other things that can kind of give him the edge over the guy in the box.

“When I hit against him I had some good success early in my career against him,” the veteran backstop added, “and then he started to develop his cutter/slider, and after catching him, now I realize why I didn’t have much success after he started throwing that pitch.”

Wieters said he thought the addition of the pitch, which Scherzer was still working on when he signed with Washington in 2014-15, has made a big difference for the starter.

“It’s huge, cause as a hitter you know that Max is going to go for the punchout against you if he gets to two strikes,” Wieters explained, “but before he had the cutter you kind of -- it’s like, ‘Okay, his best chance to be able to punch me out is with his heater, so you kind of get geared up and even though it may be 0-2, 1-2, if he throws a good offspeed pitch, you tip your hat, but then all of a sudden he starts developing this cutter/slider to where okay you can’t just cheat for a heater or you might swing at a slider that hits you on the back foot.

“So it gave the hitter some doubt of what he’s really going to come at him with. Max is a bulldog, and he’s never going to back down, but I think most importantly Max realizes the quickest way he can kind of get the guy out is the best way he can go about it.”

What will Scherzer be working on this winter? He’s never satisfied, as he told reporters on Tuesday night.

“My only goal for 2018 is to be a better pitcher than I was in 2017,” Scherzer said on Tuesday night.

Sorry, NL hitters.