Na­tion­als ace Scherzer may not be ready by Open­ing Day

Stress frac­ture in knuckle de­lays spring throw­ing start

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. | The reign­ing Cy Young Award win­ner may not be ready for Open­ing Day.

Washington Na­tion­als starter Max Scherzer worked off to the side Thurs­day dur­ing the team’s first spring work­out. The stress frac­ture in the bot­tom knuckle of his right ring fin­ger has caused a de­layed start to his spring throw­ing pro­gram and his un­known re­cov­ery timetable has put his sta­tus for April 3 in jeop­ardy.

The prob­lem was dis­cov­ered fol­low­ing the sea­son. After Scherzer pitched through pain in what was thought to be a sprained fin­ger, a se­cond MRI in early De­cem­ber showed a stress frac­ture. Scherzer said Thurs­day the frac­ture is al­most healed.

“For me, I’m just glad we look on the MRI and we see the lit­tle line that was in there in my knuckle, it’s gone,” Scherzer said. “For now, it’s just pro­gress­ing and I’m do­ing what I can to make sure that this never hap­pens again.”

He threw a ten­nis ball and lacrosse ball in the off­sea­son, and a base­ball this week. Washington opens the sea­son at home April 3 vs. Mi­ami. Will he be ready?

“I don’t even want to com­ment on it,” Scherzer said. “Be­cause I don’t know what I am go­ing to be able to do or not. It would be un­fair for me to pro­ject or even talk about that. Re­ally just take it day-by-day and see where this fin­ger’s at. Just keep pro­gress­ing.”

Scherzer said he be­gan to feel pain in his fin­ger after an Aug. 25 start against the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles. Fol­low­ing that start, his ring fin­ger ached when he tried throw a base­ball. The in­jury was first di­ag­nosed as a fin­ger sprain. The day be­fore his next start against the Philadelphia Phillies on Aug. 30, Scherzer warmed up through pain. Once he was loose, though, he felt bet­ter and in­formed the team he could pitch.

“I didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence any symp­toms or any pain,” Scherzer said.

He treated the in­jury as if it was ten­dini­tis and chose to pitch through it. Scherzer is not sure when the sprain turned to a stress frac­ture. He said it was just a re­sult of con­tin­u­ing to pitch, which was his de­ci­sion. Scherzer also noted he had no el­bow or shoul­der in­juries as a re­sult of con­tin­u­ing to pitch.

The re­sults were good enough for Scherzer to win his se­cond Cy Young Award after he fin­ished with a 2.96 ERA and led the Na­tional League in WHIP, in­nings pitched and strike­outs.

At this point, Scherzer said he feels fine do­ing day-to-day ac­tiv­i­ties, but throw­ing a base­ball is what makes the fin­ger hurt.

Scherzer had hoped the in­jury would clear it­self up in Novem­ber. After a se­cond MRI in early De­cem­ber showed the stress frac­ture, he was forced to re­luc­tantly with­draw from pitch­ing for the United States in the World Base­ball Clas­sic, which starts March 10 for the U.S. team.

“That’s when I just knew I was not go­ing to be ready for the WBC un­der any cir­cum­stances,” Scherzer said.

The Na­tion­als are con­sid­er­ing con­tin­gency plans since Scherzer’s timetable is un­known.

“How long it takes, we don’t know,” man­ager Dusty Baker said. “How­ever long it takes, then that’s how it is. We have to find a way to re­place Max, if we have to, for a tem­po­rary pe­riod of time.”

The next log­i­cal choice would be Stephen Stras­burg, who is com­ing off an in­jury, too. Stras­burg fin­ished last sea­son try­ing to get back into a game be­fore the playoffs ended. He did not.

Stras­burg has not pitched in a game since Sept. 7, when he came out in the third in­ning be­cause of strained flexor mass in his right el­bow. See­ing Stras­burg flex his arm on the mound prompted ini­tial con­cerns that he had again torn his ul­nar col­lat­eral lig­a­ment. The Na­tion­als took the rare step of mak­ing head trainer Paul Les­sard avail­able to the me­dia to ex­plain that Stras­burg’s UCL was in­tact. Stras­burg later said he had a partially torn prona­tor ten­don.

Stras­burg threw from a bullpen mound on Thurs­day in West Palm Beach for about 10 min­utes. He said it went well and that his arm is fine.

He also men­tioned that his weight is up to 240 pounds after fo­cus­ing on func­tional weightlift­ing in the off­sea­son. Down is his body mass in­dex, which mea­sures body fat in adults. Stras­burg added more long-dis­tance run­ning to his off­sea­son rou­tine, then ta­pered his run­ning down to sprints when he be­gan to throw more. He’s fo­cused on mak­ing it through the en­tire sea­son.

“I think in the past, when I was younger, I tried to stay out of the train­ing room as much as pos­si­ble, but as I’ve got­ten older, I’ve re­al­ized that it’s no dif­fer­ent than spend­ing time in the weight room,” Stras­burg said. “You need to get your work in in the train­ing room as well to make sure every­thing is stay­ing where it needs to be.”

In the off­sea­son, he sug­gested that of­ten throw­ing a cut­ter last sea­son — the first year he fea­tured the pitch — may have helped lead to his prona­tor tear. The pitch was ef­fec­tive, but Stras­burg ex­pects to re­duce its us­age this sea­son. He has two other high-end off-speed pitches: a curve­ball and changeup.

“I didn’t have it when I first got to the big leagues, and I didn’t have it any of the other years,” Stras­burg said. “I think my changeup and my curve­ball are still above-av­er­age pitches that can get guys out, so I think I’m go­ing to use it, but use my other stuff too.”

He may be throw­ing it all Open­ing Day.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The stress frac­ture in the bot­tom knuckle of Na­tion­als pitcher Max Scherzer’s right ring fin­ger may cause him to miss Open­ing Day.

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