Though he’d only made one start in the since July 6th, in between stints on the Injured List for scapulothoracic bursitis and then a mild rhomboid strain, Max Scherzer returned to the Washington Nationals’ rotation tonight with a 10-outing unbeaten streak going, over which he had a (7-0) record, with a 1.17 ERA, 11 walks, 102 Ks, and a .176/.220/.276 line against in 69 innings in that stretch.
Scherzer was itching to get back on the mound, of course, after all that time off, and, as his manager said, he was a bit ornery as he waited for word he was good to go.
“Of course I know what he means by that,” Scherzer said last week, while acknowledging that, “that’s probably a really good assessment about my overall mentality right now.”
As he explained, the nature of the injuries added to his frustration, since he seemed to be on the verge of returning to the Nats’ rotation at several points over the last two months.
“It’s really been day-to-day, hey, you might be feeling good here in two days,” he said, “and that’s really been the prognosis that I’ve gotten from the doctors and everybody about what I’m dealing with, and so for me, that’s really been the hardest part mentally, is that I feel like any point in time I could be ready to get back out there, and at any day everybody is expecting that this could turn, and for me when you have that carrot right in front of your face and you want to be out there helping your team, that’s what’s been the most frustrating part for me mentally.”
Tonight in PNC Park, Scherzer finally got the opportunity to get back on the mound for the Nationals, though how far the Nats were going to let him go was a question before the start.
“If we decided to pitch him in a game it wouldn’t be 100 pitches right away,” manager Davey Martinez said earlier this month.
“I can tell you that right now. We’ve really got to be very careful where we’re at with him right now.”
“There’s no hard pitch count on him,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday.
“Davey will look at it. Max will look at it, and do with him as they see fit. He’s certainly not going to go deep into a ballgame his first time out and I think that we’ll err on the side of caution, even if we have to tie Max up and remove him physically from the game.”
“His first time back, we have to stair-step him and build him up to pitch deep into games like he’s used to doing, his 115-pitch type of starts, but that won’t happen right out of the chute.”
“We’re going to let him do his thing, but really keep an eye on if he has any high-leverage [situations], a lot of pitches in an inning -- all that stuff,” Martinez told reporters before the start of tonight’s game, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jack Crouse.
Scherzer went four innings on 71 pitches, walking, one, striking out three and giving up four hits, one a home run, before he was done for the night, though he put up a bit of a fight in a conversation in the dugout before the decision to lift him was made.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 4.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 71 P, 48 S, 4/4 GO/FO.
Just seeing Scherzer back on the mound, the manager said, was a welcome sight.
“It was awesome. Just to see him run out there and take the ball was great. He felt good, we got him through 70+ pitches and he felt good. He was a little gassed, which we figured he would be, but his intensity was like always, and he got through it, and hopefully tomorrow he wakes up and he’s well-recovered and we move forward.”
How he recovers from the appearance is the key, as it has been over the last two months.
“I feel pretty good post-start,” Scherzer told reporters after the outing, “but like I said with this process of trying to learn what’s going on here, it’s the recovery, so it’s more about tomorrow than it is today.”
“I’m assuming he’s going to be sore, because he pitched,” Martinez added, “but we just want that typical soreness that he always gets, and if he has that then we’re good to go.”
What did the manager and starter think of his stuff?
“When he needed to make pitches he made them, that’s the beautiful thing about Max, but I thought he looked really good, I really did. Now we’ll see how he recovers tomorrow.”
Martinez and his coaches (and the Nationals’ training staff) were watching closely during his four innings of work.
“Everything was sharp,” the manager said.
“He was good, yeah, and that’s the one thing that we were honing in on. Both Pauls, [team trainer] Paul Lessard and [pitching coach] Paul Menhart and myself, we were keying in on everything just to make sure that he wasn’t laboring in any way and everything was crisp.”
Scherzer sat 93-96 with his fastball, right where he’s been this season (95.3 MPH average), and he threw his four-seamer 35 times, and mixed in his changeup, cutter, slider and his curve.
Scherzer said the velocity was fine, and was never an issue really, but after two sim games against his own teammates, this was a real test of how far he’s come.
“Velocity has never been the problem with this,” Scherzer said. “I’ve been able to throw hard throughout this whole time, so I really wouldn’t judge it on that. Just wanted to come out here, never really emptied the tank tonight, and just try to pitch, and I can’t get hurt again, that’s just the reality of this. And so I got out here, was able to go four innings and get a good feel for this, of getting back in there and just getting back into game action, because now that’s real.
“You can simulate games all you want, but simulated games aren’t real, so the fact that I prepared for a lineup and have those guys, facing a team that — those guys can hit, that was fun tonight.”