WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – On Thursday morning, Max Scherzer said he was scheduled to meet with Washington Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux later in the day to decide on the next step in his return from a stress reaction in his right ring finger. He had faced batters for the first time in 2017 on Tuesday in a live batting practice session – and the two were to deliberate if a game, simulated or real, should follow.
They ultimately decided on another live batting practice for Sunday, according to Manager Dusty Baker, over a game of any sort because it allows for a more controlled environment. Baker said he expects the workload will be more extensive than the 44-pitch session Tuesday, when Scherzer threw a three-fingered fastball to hitters for the first time.
The decision likely pushes Scherzer’s Grapefruit League debut back by at least another five days, which means the earliest he could debut is March 17. That would be 17 days before Opening Day, which the 32-year-old Scherzer has started for the Nationals the past two years and is increasingly unlikely to for a third straight season by the day.
“Well, we’ve been thinking that all along sort of, but we’re preparing for that,” Baker said. “I mean, it’s hard to count Max out. It just depends on how he progresses the next few weeks. But if not, then we got a couple other candidates that are pretty good too. So we’re glad that he’s made the progress that he’s made.”
One of the other candidates for a rotation spot is A.J. Cole, who dodged some potential early damage to toss four no-hit innings in the Nationals’ 2-2 tie with the Marlins at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Thursday. Cole was the beneficiary a few strong defensive plays – including two diving stops by second baseman Grant Green to retire the game’s first two hitters – and threw 51 pitches, 29 for strikes. He produced five flyouts to four groundouts, struck out two and walked one.
“A.J. threw the ball well,” Baker said. “That was a very quick and efficient four innings. He threw the ball well.”
● While catcher Matt Wieters has yet to play for the Nationals and isn’t slated to make his debut until Sunday against the Astros, Derek Norris continued his hot spring Thursday with his second home run in the Nationals’ 2-2 tie Thursday, a solo shot in the seventh inning after Bryce Harper had cracked his own solo homer in the sixth. Norris is 5 for 11 in six Grapefruit League games after the Nationals signed Wieters to take his projected starting spot behind the plate. The Wieters addition made the 28-year-old Norris – and his $4.2 million salary – expendable and put him on the trading block.
“I don’t know if ‘easy’ is the proper word to use, but whether I’m wearing red and blue or I’m wearing purple and gold or whatever color makes up all of MLB, you’re still going to be coming out here and you’re still going to be doing the same thing,” Norris said. “You’re going to be catching ’pens, you’re going to be blocking balls, you’re going to be throwing, you’re going to be hitting. So virtually, just come out here and doing my work, getting my at-bats and prepping for a season, whether I’m in Washington or elsewhere.”