If you found yourself wondering how things got to where they are with Max Scherzer’s stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger after yesterday’s revelation that the 2016 NL Cy Young winner might not be available for the Washington Nationals’ 2017 season opener, Scherzer and Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker did their best to explain the situation.
In separate interviews from the Nationals’ new shared Spring Training facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, Scherzer and Baker talked about the injury and rehab process on Thursday.
When did Scherzer suffer the injury?:
“It all started after the Baltimore start last year at home,” Scherzer said, pointing to an August 25th outing in the nation’s capital.
“After that start, for whatever reason, the next day I came in and my ring finger was just aching when I tried to throw a baseball, and over the next couple days we had the diagnosis of a finger sprain and — I think it was the Phillies — faced the Phillies next and the day before that Philly start I went out there and was able to warm up, it hurt warming up, I was able to get through it to know that I could tell everybody that I was good to go and once I got to 100% that I didn’t experience any symptoms or any pain, so for me, we have the playoffs on the line, treating this like tendinitis, like I’m just going to pitch through this and that’s what happened.”
Scherzer’s outing against the Orioles was the third in a ten-start unbeaten streak that continued to the end of the regular season.
Over the course of that streak, Scherzer was (8-0) with a 3.34 ERA, 17 walks (2.37 BB/9) and 76 Ks (10.58 K/9) in 64 2⁄3 innings pitched, over which he held opposing hitters to a .225/.279/.389 line.
Did the Nationals ever consider shutting Scherzer down?:
“When you get late in the season there is something always bothering you,” Baker said.
“You don’t throw the way he threw and as many innings as he threw, and consider shutting him down.
“We had already shut down [Stephen Strasburg] and certainly if [Scherzer] couldn’t pitch he would have told us.
“How many people are out there pitching and playing in August and September that don’t have something? He’s one of the greats in the game and greats find a way to pitch and play through injury.”
Playing through the pain with what was initially diagnosed as a finger sprain, Scherzer said, eventually resulted in the stress fracture.
“So, that’s just something that happens, that’s the consequences,” he explained.
“If you asked me,” Scherzer continued, “pitching through a finger sprain, the biggest thing that you have a question with is your elbow or shoulder. Those are fine.
“Nothing happened to my elbow and shoulder, so pitching through an injury like that, that’s your No. 1 concern, so the fact that nothing else happened structurally to my elbow or shoulder is the biggest plus out of this. The fact that it turned into a stress fracture, that’s the cost of doing business.”
“I was a bit surprised that he had it period [based] on how he was throwing the ball,” Baker told reporters.
“It wasn’t diagnosed as what it is now. It wasn’t a fracture to my knowledge, it was a hairline fracture, so how do you know, and would you have known anything if this didn’t come up? Because this guy was lights out down the stretch. That just shows you what the guy is about.
“When you look at the overall scale of things, you’d rather have it be something like this than structural in his arm or in his elbow or his shoulder. So the way I look at it is a temporary setback, and who knows [maybe] Max will be stronger down the stretch and through the end of the season.”
Did the injury affect Scherzer on the mound last season?:
Judging by the numbers alone, it didn’t seem to affect Scherzer in the starts that followed his outing against the O’s, and he said on Thursday that it was more of a problem when he warming up for his starts.
“When I was in a game, I didn’t feel it,” Scherzer said. “It hurt warming up, that’s why I was always treating it like tendinitis. Once I got through that, once I got through that initial warm-up phase and actually got into the game, I was good to go and that was one of the things we looked at, making sure the velocity and performance was still there on all the pitches, and in that first start it was. And so that’s why — we sat around like, ‘Hey, how are we going to handle this?’ and I said, ‘I want to pitch.’ If I can go out there and compete at 100%, and not make any excuses, then I’m going to go out there and do that and like I said, the fact that it morphed into a fracture, that’s just the cost of doing business.”
So... when will he be able to return to the mound?:
Scherzer said the finger is no longer an issue in his daily life, there’s only one time it bothers him now.
“In most of my day-to-day life things, I don’t experience any pain,” Scherzer explained.
“It’s just throwing a baseball is the one thing that hurts, which is the only thing I don’t want to experience pain with. I’d rather have all the pain in my day-to-day life and not on the mound.”
The fact that he didn’t have the diagnosis of a stress fracture in the finger until he went for a second MRI in early December did set his rehab back.
“The big thing is that once you go from a strain to sprain,” Scherzer said, “everything I’ve ever done is you try to strengthen everything around that, and that’s probably why it was never healing because of everything I was probably doing in an effort to strengthen all the ligaments. With a fracture, it’s a completely different protocol where you’ve got to give it rest and not do any type of load activity to promote it, plus there were other therapies I was able to do over the course of the past eight to ten weeks to help facilitate that.”
“They’ve bombarded it with everything that’s medically possible,” Baker added.
“Sometimes the only healer is time. We’d like to rush it, but like I said, you’d hate to have to rush it and have it lead to something else.
“So he’s too valuable and too important of a guy.”
Scherzer said he’s still not sure when he’ll be 100% healthy and back at it again.
“I’m progressing. It’s hard to give you a date on anything,” he explained.
“Like I said, because I was able to throw a tennis ball and lacrosse ball, it’s not Day 1 for me. So, I was able to keep some functionality in my arm, for me, elbow, shoulder, lat, all that feels good and is on pace to really take on an expedited throwing program, it’s just now putting all the pieces together.”
While he’s working his way back, Baker said, the Nationals will have to make do until he’s ready.
“You have to make some plans and who knows,” Baker said. “We’re always looking for a surprise guy to emerge and is that surprise person, whoever that is, is that a temporary situation or could they lodge themselves solidly in our rotation?”