11:29 am: Scherzer will throw a simulated game Tuesday, at which point the Nationals will reevaluate his timetable, Kerr adds.
10:21 am: It seems Scherzer came out of the bullpen session unscathed. Asked today by reporters how he’s feeling, Scherzer gave a thumbs up, tweets Byron Kerr of MASN, surely an encouraging sign for Nats’ fans.
8:37 am: The Nationals are clinging to a half-game lead in the NL Wild Card entering Sunday’s series finale against the charging Mets. Their playoff odds, per Fangraphs, sit at a strong 67.8%, with a small but non-zero chance they overcome their current 6.5 game deficit in the NL East. Since placing their ace Max Scherzer on the injured list July 29, though, the club has gone just 5-6 against a slew of teams in a similar position to them in the standings. Fortunately, the 35 year-old took something of a step forward in his recovery yesterday, as Sam Fortier of the Washington Post reports.
Scherzer tossed a 36-pitch bullpen session without discomfort Saturday, his first mound work since he hit the shelf. Both the pitcher and manager Dave Martinez were moderately encouraged with the session, although Scherzer predictably expressed some frustration with missing time at all.
That’s not to say we’ll see Scherzer on the mound immediately, though. The club still hasn’t put forth a timetable for his return, and Martinez told Fortier the club plans to be “very cautious” with the hurler to keep him healthy for the stretch run. As Fortier adds on Twitter, that may eventually mean Scherzer needs to make a minor-league rehab start as a tune-up before returning to an MLB mound. It seems the biggest test of the weekend will actually be how Scherzer feels today, as his previous injury popped up the day after his start, not while he was on the mound.
It’s easy to understand why Washington wants to be patient with its ace, even amidst the heat of a pennant race. For one, it’s arguable the club and player have already paid the price for impatience. Scherzer initially hit the IL with a mid-back strain July 13, returned just twelve days later, then went back on the shelf after one start with the current upper back problem. Whether Scherzer’s second injury was a foreseeable consequence of his quick return from the first is anyone’s guess, but his having multiple IL stints in a short period of time no doubt plays a role in the organization’s cautious approach this go-round.
Additionally, Scherzer is among the most important pieces in the organization. While he’s already more than made good on the club’s sizable free agent investment, he’s under contract for $30 million over the next two seasons (with another $105 million in deferred money to be paid through 2028), as Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs recently explained. Anticipating another two years of stellar production, the club wants to make sure Scherzer’s at his best before he returns to action.
Despite his age, Scherzer continued to dazzle in 2019 pre-injury. His 2.41 ERA ranks third leaguewide (minimum 100 innings), while his combination of strikeouts (35.3%) and walks (4.7%) is the best in MLB. Scherzer’s been among the best pitchers of this decade, having accrued 200+ innings with an ERA of 3.15 or below every year between 2013 and 2018. While the injuries will keep him from that 200 inning mark this season, he remains dominant as ever on a rate basis, making his health situation one of the most noteworthy around the league as we approach the season’s stretch run.