The reigning Cy Young Award winner had to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic with a stress fracture in the knuckle at the base of his right ring finger. At the time, the injury felt almost comical. A knuckle? Come on. But as it turned out, the trouble was real and the pain troublesome. Scherzer’s finger wasn’t healing, and he needed to rest.
When he came to camp, he still felt pain in that finger, though doctors told him the stress fracture was almost completely healed. The pain was achy, not dagger-like, but it lingered all the same, putting Scherzer at risk of compensating to avoid it, and throwing his mechanics — and therefore, the health of his arm — out of whack.
Scherzer has made clear his stance on pitching through that pain: He simply would not do it, unwilling to risk disrupting the kinetic chain that stayed healthy enough to let him throw more than 200 innings over each of the past four seasons, and more combined innings than anyone in baseball during that span. Secondary pitches did not bother the finger. His fastball grip did. So Scherzer used a modified three-finger grip for much of the spring, throwing to keep his arm in shape, unable to ratchet up as he might do normally.
Wednesday, Scherzer played catch with a two-fingered grip for as long as he had all spring. He never looked entirely comfortable, and flexed his hand between pitches, as if trying to keep the area loose. He then did about 10 to 15 minutes of extreme long toss with a three-fingered grip, so far that two trainers had to max out their arms in a relay to return the ball to him each time. At one point, Scherzer was throwing the ball from the left center field fence to the right field foul line. While trouble with his grip has prohibited him from throwing off a mound, it has not prevented him from throwing enough to keep his arm strong.
Still, when Scherzer’s name popped up on the sheet Thursday afternoon, it constituted a surprise. The righty still seemed to be limited when he threw Wednesday, still grimacing more than smiling. Asked whether Scherzer was finally pain-free, Maddux hedged.
“It means we’ll make an adjustment,” he said, careful not to reveal the extent of that adjustment, which will be to avoid the fastball. Nevertheless, Maddux seemed optimistic about Scherzer’s status, particularly because spring training started earlier than usual to accommodate the World Baseball Classic.
“We do have the extra week this year to pace ourselves, needless to say,” Maddux said. “So Max, if all goes well, he’ll be maybe a start or two behind the other guys.”
Scherzer would not commit to being ready to pitch on Opening Day. But missing a spring training start or two would not constitute a major setback, particularly because pitchers do not throw many innings in those games. If he returned a week or so into the game schedule, Scherzer would have plenty of time to work through his progression. As it stands, he is not quite ready to throw in games yet, and the extent to which he will be limited in that bullpen session Saturday remains to be seen. But Scherzer cannot pitch in games until he throws off a mound first, and he had not done that yet this spring. Saturday, if all goes to plan, he will.