ITCH TO PITCH

Scherzer made up for lost time, can’t wait to get back on mound

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

Max Scherzer was six weeks be­hind when spring train­ing be­gan. He won­dered when he would take the mound in the reg­u­lar sea­son. The Washington Nationals won­dered if he was en route to the dis­abled list to start the sea­son.

The stress frac­ture in a knuckle on his right ring fin­ger had pre­vented him from tak­ing steps in his an­nual throw­ing pro­gram. At spring train­ing in Florida, he was ini­tially work­ing off to the side. His team­mates moved onto the new bullpen mounds in groups. Scherzer was off sched­ule and out of the mix.

His re­cov­ery since has been rapid and sig­nif­i­cant. Scherzer moved through his throw­ing pro­gram, check­ing off pitch to­tal marks and feel­ing no dis­com­fort in his fin­ger. The pain re­lief al­lowed him to re­turn to a two-fin­ger fast­ball grip. It also puts him in line to start Fri­day against the Philadel­phia Phillies in their home opener.

“The fact that I was able to at least keep my arm go­ing ... I was able to long­toss, get through all my pro­grams, get through the bullpens and here I am,” Scherzer said.

When he was in­tro­duced Mon­day dur­ing the Nationals’ home opener, cheers for the 2016 Na­tional League Cy Young Award win­ner boomed through the Nationals Park. Scherzer was later re-pre­sented with his Cy Young Award on the field (he orig­i­nally re­ceived it

dur­ing the win­ter).

What he didn’t do was pitch. Stephen Stras­burg started Open­ing Day. Scherzer wasn’t even sec­ond in the ro­ta­tion. He has ended up fourth and will be go­ing to the mound for the first time this sea­son dur­ing a trip out of town.

“I’m so happy to be tak­ing the ball,” Scherzer said. “We have a great team. So many great arms that can go out there and win ball games. I was go­ing to watch the other four guys pitch at some point.”

In­clude Nationals man­ager Dusty Baker among the relieved. He was concerned about Tan­ner Roark, who threw 97 pitches in six in­nings Wed­nes­day night, be­cause Roark was also be­hind. His is­sue was not in­jury. It was the spring in­ter­rup­tion of the World Base­ball Clas­sic. Pitch­ing coach Mike Mad­dux had moved Roark ahead of sched­ule know­ing that he would fall be­hind at the WBC. There was no such option with Scherzer.

“You don’t have spring train­ing for noth­ing,” Baker said. “You need the in­nings. You need the com­pe­ti­tion. You need to get to a cer­tain amount of pitches to be your­self.”

Scherzer is hunt­ing for his fast­ball com­mand. Even when play­ing catch, he’s track­ing how he feels and his me­chan­ics.

“Feel­ing the abil­ity that if I’m in a 1-1 count, I throw a strike,” Scherzer said. “I know where the ball is go­ing to end up. That’s been the dif­fi­cult part. Keep go­ing through spring train­ing, find­ing that con­sis­tency. Now, it’s just a race to get to it.”

He pointed to his fi­nal spring train­ing start against the Bos­ton Red Sox at the Naval Academy as cru­cial. Bos­ton de­liv­ered a reg­u­lar-sea­son lineup pop­u­lated with play­ers that helped the Red Sox lead the ma­jor leagues in runs last sea­son. Scherzer pitched five in­nings against the Red Sox.

“I’m itch­ing to get out there and see where I’m at,” Scherzer said. “I was ac­tu­ally re­ally for­tu­nate to face that tough Bos­ton lineup. To get their full lineup. To re­ally get grinded apart. When you get grinded apart in spring, those are the learn­ing lessons that you need. You re­al­ize, ‘Oh, that was a mis­take.’ Some­times you face a Dou­ble-A kid who hits a foul ball and you don’t learn any­thing. Whereas, those guys can hit.”

Fri­day, or Satur­day if Thurs­day’s rain forces him to be bumped, Scherzer ex­pects to throw around 100 pitches. He thinks he will be fa­tigued near 90 -- de­pend­ing on how the game goes -- and can grind his way close to triple dig­its. But, it’s the first pitch he will be most pleased about. He wasn’t sure when he was go­ing to throw it. Turns out it will be re­leased the first week of the sea­son.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer’s re­cov­ery from a stress frac­ture in a knuckle on his right ring fin­ger has been rapid and sig­nif­i­cant. Pain re­lief al­lowed him to re­turn to a two-fin­ger fast­ball grip. Scherzer is in line to start Fri­day in Philadel­phia.

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