An ankle sprain slowed Max Scherzer at the start of Spring Training, but the 36-year-old right-hander passed all tests, and alleviated any concerns, and last night he took the hill against the St. Louis Cardinals in West Palm Beach, FL for his first appearance of the ‘21 Grapefruit League season.
Before the game, Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked about what the plan was for the first outing of the spring for Scherzer.
“He’s going to — we’re going to try to get him to 30-35 pitches, two innings. And then we’ll go from there,” Martinez explained.
“He threw a live BP the other day, and, obviously, it’s in a controlled environment, but he threw 53 pitches. So this is basically game speed, so we want to keep an eye on him, so hopefully we can at least get him through that second inning and see what happens.”
Martinez said he and the rest of the club’s coaches and trainers were confident Scherzer was good to go after a delayed start to his work this spring.
“We’re going to keep an eye on him and make sure his mechanics are good,” the manager explained.
“But nobody knows Max better than Max, so he’s going to go out there and try to get outs and try to get through these 35 pitches.”
The manager also decided to match Scherzer up with new catcher Alex Avila, who worked with the righty 107 times when both were with the Detroit Tigers (2010-14). Avila and Nats’ catcher Yan Gomes are expected to share the catching duties in D.C. in 2021.
“I want — Yan obviously has caught Max a lot,” Martinez said. “Avila has caught him before. I want him to get comfortable with Max again, so he’s going to catch him today.”
Scherzer and Avila got 1 2⁄3 innings of work in, with the righty throwing a total of 38 pitches, giving up a hit, two walks, and two runs, both of which scored with Luis Avilán on in relief.
Asked how he felt on the mound in the outing, Scherzer said everything felt good, and his ankle was a non-issue, allowing him to focus on his mechanics and the things he’s worked on this spring.
“Ankle has been good,” Scherzer told reporters.
“Been getting through it. I can pitch at 100% on the ankle, so that’s the good news, I’m getting through the ball. So no worries from that end tonight. Just was trying to be under control and make sure I get through this. I’m more worried about my arm than actually my ankle. Getting back on the mound, and took care of business, so I’m making sure I get through this outing unscathed from an injury standpoint, so work on my pitches, get out there, get the stuff in, and get out of there, and just move on to the next outing.”
Before you panic, when he said he was worried about his arm, Scherzer just meant that he wanted to make sure he wasn’t favoring the ankle in a way that could affect his arm or any other part of his body.
“Everything is fine on the arm,” he assured everyone.
“It’s just that when you progress through something like this, one little thing can lead to another little thing, and then that can lead up to your arm. So, I’m cognizant of that, and more worried about something happening to my arm than really my ankle.
“That’s where I really was just trying to be really under control tonight, get my pitches in, and then really start focusing on dialing up the intensity here really in the starts after this.”
Avila said it “looked like the ankle was a non-factor” for Scherzer during the inning-plus of work he got in.
“The ball was coming out of his hand really nice as far as his fastball, and we just kind of worked his other pitches, his secondary pitches, and it looked like the ankle is well past him,” the veteran catcher said.
With Avila’s history, he knows how Scherzer works as he builds up, so the backstop said it was nothing new for the normally beyond intense pitcher to dial it down a little in his first outings of the spring.
“He’s been doing it long enough, just knowing that the first spring outing in a game, it’s a build-up. Especially coming off an abbreviated season last year, you have to be smart and he’s one of the best at knowing his body and knows when to start putting the pedal down. We’ll see that towards the end of spring. But like he said, it’s more of getting a feel, getting your feet wet with some adrenaline pumping, and working on the release point on all your pitches.”
“He was good,” Martinez said, after what ended up a 7-6, walk-off win. “He was Max. Under control the whole time. Got his work in. He threw all his pitches, threw them all well, so moving forward to his next outing, we’ll try to stretch him out a little bit more, try to get him to 50 pitches.”