WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer wanted as little simulation to be apparent in Tuesday’s simulated game as possible.
He left the bullpen at Nationals Park and jogged to the mound, in full uniform, with Dr. Dre’s “Still Dre” blaring from the stadium’s speakers as if it was 7:05 p.m. instead of a few minutes past 3.
When Gerardo Parra came to the plate to face the three-time Cy Young Award winner, “Baby Shark” played. There were no fans in the seats to clap along to the “doo doo doo doo,” but Scherzer wanted to feel the atmosphere anyway.
For a pitcher who hasn’t pitched since July 25, held out with a mild strain of his rhomboid muscle in his upper back, Scherzer was raring to go from the mound, even if it was just a simulated outing.
Max Scherzer has a 2.41 ERA in 20 starts this season. (Photo: Brad Mills, USA TODAY Sports)
Tuesday’s action represents another step closer to game action for Scherzer, but it’s contingent on how he feels when he wakes up Wednesday. The Washington Nationals are choosing to play things safe with Scherzer’s recovery rather than rushing him along, eyeing important innings in October with the ball in Scherzer’s grasp.
“We really gotta be very careful,” manager Davey Martinez said. “This is to get him through the rest of the season, and then some.”
Tuesday continued Scherzer’s recovery progress from his rhomboid strain. In New York on Saturday, the 35-year-old threw a bullpen session, his first time off the mound since being placed on the injured list July 26. Scherzer threw from flat ground Sunday. He felt fine after both sessions.
While Martinez said Scherzer felt good after Tuesday’s outing — Scherzer didn’t meet with the media after his 63-pitch session, featuring two mock innings — Martinez is holding his breath for a progress report Wednesday.
“The hurdle’s been the recovery,” Martinez said. “After he throws, before, the recovery wasn’t great. He felt something. Last couple times he threw, he didn’t feel anything, which is why we bumped him up to the sim game.”
The Nationals salvaged one game against the Mets on Sunday to remain in second place in the National League East, and at 63-55 entering Wednesday’s matchup with the Cincinnati Reds, Martinez’s squad holds a slight lead in the wild card places.
Without Scherzer for the past month, Erick Fedde and Joe Ross have helped fill the void. Fedde, a 26-year-old right-hander, has put together two straight six-inning starts, allowing a combined two runs between them.
Ross starts Wednesday night. The former 2011 first-round pick has held his opponents scoreless in his past two outings, scattering four hits across 11 1/3 innings.
“Those two guys coming up and doing what they did have been awesome,” Martinez said. “They’ve taken a lot of stress from me, one, but also from the bullpen, too. I mean, they’ve gone six innings.”
Their success hasn’t diminished the need for Scherzer to return, though. The right-handed ace has a 2.41 ERA in 20 starts this season and his 7.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio leads MLB.
And in typical Scherzer fashion, exhibited through the intensity of his Tuesday simulated game, he’s eager for a return. Martinez has heard plenty from his star about getting back on the mound. The manager has preached for patience, though.
“It is difficult, because he wants to go, go, go,” Martinez said. “But he understands where we’re at right now. The way we got about it is to say, ‘This is for your future, too. We’ve gotta make sure that you’re right.’ He gets it. I mean, he fights a lot of things. But he’s at the point now that he just wants to get better and wants to get back out there to help us win.”
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