Max Scherzer walked by Dave Martinez’s office Wednesday afternoon and flashed a thumbs up. That was all Martinez, the Washington Nationals’ manager, wanted to see.
It had been just under 24 hours since Scherzer threw a two-inning simulated game. It had been just under three weeks since Scherzer returned to the mound, felt more pain below his shoulder blade and was right back on the injured list. It has been about six weeks of nagging injuries for Scherzer — a mid-back strain, bursitis in the scapula beneath his shoulder, now a mild rhomboid strain — and the ace said he is ready to pitch in a game.
“Got a chance to test it, and everything felt good yesterday. But more importantly was how I felt today,” Scherzer said Wednesday before the Nationals’ 4:05 p.m. matchup with the Cincinnati Reds. “That’s been the biggest challenge in all of this. That’s why it’s been so tricky.
“It hasn’t been the day that I’ve actually pitched, because when I’ve taken the mound, I’m going at full tilt, with normal velocity. It’s the day after that’s really been the tricky thing in all of this.”
The thumbs up to Martinez confirmed that he woke up Wednesday feeling good. He then echoed that to a group of reporters in the Nationals’ dugout. Scherzer, Martinez and head athletic trainer Paul Lessard were scheduled to meet later in the afternoon and determine the next step. Washington has announced Patrick Corbin as its Friday starter against the Milwaukee Brewers. Saturday and Sunday are listed as to be announced.
The current rotation would slot Aníbal Sánchez and Erick Fedde in those games. But Martinez did not rule out Scherzer returning this weekend. Both the pitcher and manager acknowledged that Scherzer will be on a pitch limit when he does. He threw 86 pitches against the Colorado Rockies on July 25, his only start since the all-star break, and it sounds like his next workload will be even lighter.
“The thing with Max, he analyzes everything with his body, and he said this time it really confused him because he said he knows his body really well and he just couldn’t put a finger on why this was happening,” Martinez said Wednesday. “So for him, it’s like, he’s on board. He wants to make sure that when he comes back, he’s back.
“That being said, when he does come back, we have to put him on a limit. I don’t want him to come out and say, ‘I’m going to go as much as I can.’ That’s not going to be the case.”
This is the pitcher who started with a broken nose earlier this season, regularly pushes toward 120 pitches and often has seemed indestructible throughout a Hall of Fame career. But the last month has made Scherzer reconsider that unrelenting, all-out approach. He wants to be healthy for his next start, sure, but also for a run the Nationals hope goes into October. He was the best pitcher in baseball before he first felt back pain following a late June start in Detroit.
Remaining as such, even at 35, is the overarching goal.
“I don’t second-guess anything about taking the ball or anything like that,” Scherzer said. “Every time in my life I’ve ever thrown a ball at 100 percent, I always take the mound. I wouldn’t have changed anything. It’s just now trying to understand what this injury is and what I have to do to train around it and how to pitch around it, as well.”
On Tuesday, after Scherzer’s simulated game, Martinez suggested a side session later in the week. But Scherzer brushed that possibility aside when he was asked about the next part of his plan. He doesn’t want a minor league start. He doesn’t feel like another bullpen will change much. He is ready to start, plain and simple, and will be on the mound once the medical staff gives the go-ahead.
“That will be up to them. I want to pitch,” Scherzer said when asked about a specific day. “I’m itching to get out there. So whenever they’ll let me.”
Jesse Winker CF
Joey Votto 1B
Eugenio Suarez 3B
Josh VanMeter LF
Aristides Aquino RF
Freddie Galvis 2B
Jose Iglesias SS
Tucker Barnhart C
Trevor Bauer P
Trea Turner SS
Adam Eaton RF
Anthony Rendon 3B
Juan Soto LF
Matt Adams 1B
Asdrúbal Cabrera 2B
Kurt Suzuki C
Victor Robles CF
Stephen Strasburg P