WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — When Max Scherzer reported to camp at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches a month ago, he doubted he would be ready for the start of the regular season. And so did the Nationals. They started preparing as though Scherzer would miss some time.
But that was before Scherzer began experimenting with a three-fingered fastball, which has allowed him to build arm strength without aggravating the stress fracture in his right ring finger.
He first threw it playing catch and then throwing long toss, which was good enough for his bosses to allow him to throw it off a mound. A couple of bullpens, a three-inning live batting practice session, and a two-inning simulated game appearance later, Scherzer steadfastly believes he will be ready for the start of the season.
“I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said Monday morning. “I’m gonna do it.”
Scherzer’s staunch assertion falls in line with what Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said Sunday.
“He’s a little bit behind but not as far behind as it looked like he was going to be at the beginning,” Baker said. “He’s back on pace I think.”
Earlier Sunday, Scherzer threw 28 pitches in an intrasquad simulated game on one of the back fields at the Nationals’ spring training complex. Scherzer said Monday the session went well, which was pitching coach Mike Maddux’s verdict Sunday. Maddux said Scherzer is scheduled to pitch in a minor league game against another organization — those are still controlled settings — and throw three innings but on Monday Scherzer said that was “TBD.”
If Scherzer is able to pitch in a Grapefruit League game instead, that would give him the opportunity to pitch in three exhibition games before Opening Day if he pitches every five days. The Nationals could also have Scherzer miss the first turn through the rotation because the team has an off-day on April 4 after the opening the season against the Marlins. Scherzer then wouldn’t have to pitch until April 12 at home against the Cardinals if the four other members of the rotation pitch every fifth day the first two turns through.
If the Nationals elect that route, they could place Scherzer on the 10-day disabled list (the 10-day DL has replaced the 15-day DL beginning this season) and backdate it as long as Scherzer didn’t appear in a game during that period, granting them a spot on the active roster to use elsewhere.