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Washington Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer’s long road to Citizens Bank Park...

It took a lot of hard work, but Max Scherzer did what he had to do to be ready to start for the Nationals against the Phillies this afternoon...

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Max Scherzer was unable to make his third straight Opening Day start for Washington’s Nationals, but the fact that the Nats’ ace didn’t need to go on the DL at the beginning of the season is an accomplishment in itself.

Set back this Spring by a stress fracture in the knuckle of the ring finger on his right hand that lingered since he first suffered the injury last August, Scherzer did what he could to make sure he wouldn’t miss the start of his third season in D.C.

Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker marveled at Scherzer’s hard work after the 32-year-old right-hander’s final preseason start in last Saturday’s exhibition in Annapolis, MD’s Max Bishop Stadium.

“If you know Max, you know that he’s a tremendous competitor and he’s going to find a way to win, find a way to beat you, and that’s what champions do,” Baker said.

“They don’t use any excuse that’s there, you find a way to get the job done. The thing about Max is, if he has to throw 15 changeups in a row that’s what he’ll do to get you out, or make an adjustment on his fastball. He showed me that early in the year, in Spring Training, when he was trying to throw that three-finger fastball, which I’ve never seen anybody do, and that was Max’s way of trying to find a way to get in the rotation, stay in the rotation and he’s battled his way through and he hasn’t had any complaints about his finger in the last two or three weeks.”

Scherzer gave up six hits, a walk and two runs in his final tune-up for his 2017 debut, a 91-pitch outing against the Boston Red Sox which set him up for this afternoon’s start in Citizens Bank Park.

“Max looked pretty good,” Baker said. “Max always looks pretty good, it’s just a matter of how good. Max is fine.

“He was pitching against a potent lineup that they have over there, and they’ve seen Max in the past — they haven’t in a couple years, but Max looked good.”

Scherzer told reporters it was a good test for him to face a lineup as potent as the one the Red Sox sent out last weekend.

“It was nice to be able to face a lineup of their caliber,” he said. “They grind out some ABs and those are professionals at bats up and down the lineup, plus the DH.”

“That’s as good as good a start as you’re going to face in Spring Training to get you ready for the season. Felt like I took a step forward today in terms of getting back into the zone, and that’s what you look for in Spring.”

Coming off a NL Cy Young award-winning (20-7) 2016 campaign which saw him post a 2.96 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 56 walks (2.21 BB/9), a career-high 284 Ks (11.19 K/9) and a stingy .196/.254/.365 line against in 34 starts and 228 13 innings pitched, over which he was worth 5.6 fWAR, Scherzer said he was ready for the start of the third year of his 7-year/$210M deal with the Nationals, in spite of the fact that he had an abbreviated Spring schedule.

“Fortunately, I’ve had enough years to kind of know what it takes to get it done in the regular season,” Scherzer explained.

“I’m coming back and I’ve had a limited amount of starts here, just trying to get a feel for all the pitches, and that’s what was so important for me, to make sure that you face a team like today where you’ve got to execute everything, and because I know in the regular season, the teams we’re going to face, that’s what the midseason form feels like, that’s what you’re expected to do and if you want to have success that’s what you have to do.

“That’s the joy of this,” he added, “that’s where the bar is at and that’s what it takes to be successful and I embrace that.”

Scherzer is set to make his first start of the season this afternoon in Philadelphia, PA’s Citizens Bank Park.

He told reporters this week that he was still searching for consistency, but thought he would be good to go to around 100 pitches today. He’s come a long way since the start of Spring Training.

All the hard work to get here pays off when he takes the mound against the Phillies at 3:05 PM EDT.