WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The reigning National League Cy Young winner might not be ready for Opening Day.
"I don't even want to comment on it," Max Scherzer said after the Nationals' first official spring training workout, when asked whether he would be ready for Washington's April 3 opener. "Because I don't even know what I'm going to be able to do or not. It'd be unfair for me to even project or even talk about that. Really, we'll just take it day by day and just see where this finger's at and just keep progressing."
The 32-year old right-hander is recovering from a fractured bottom knuckle in his right ring finger. He first experienced discomfort during a late August start against the Baltimore Orioles, but he didn't miss any time, going on to lead the NL in innings (228⅓), strikeouts (284) and wins (20) en route to nabbing his second Cy Young Award. He became just the sixth pitcher to win the award in both leagues.
The injury was originally diagnosed as a sprain, but in December, further testing revealed it was actually a break. For most of the offseason, Scherzer -- who was planning on pitching for the United States in the World Baseball Classic but had to withdraw -- has been limited to throwing a tennis ball and a lacrosse ball and has started throwing baseballs only recently.
"This is the week that I've finally picked a baseball up and been able to throw with a modified grip," said Scherzer, who played catch during Thursday's workout but was the only member of Washington's starting rotation who didn't throw off a mound. "So as this fracture continues to heal, as the symptoms continue to alleviate, we get treatment on everything, I'll be able to work back into all my grips and obviously get back on the mound."
As for when that might be, his manager isn't making any assumptions.
"You gotta be prepared for that," Nats skipper Dusty Baker said when asked about the possibility of Scherzer missing Opening Day. "If it doesn't happen, then I'm the happiest guy in the world. If it does happen, then you have to start looking at some options. We do have some guys that are chomping at the bit. You hate to lose Max for any period of time. But like I said, that's just speculation right now. We don't know. But you certainly have to prepare for that."
Since signing a seven year, $210 million contract with the Nationals before the 2015 season, Scherzer has started each of the past two Opening Days. If he's unable to do so again in 2017, one potential replacement would be Stephen Strasburg, who started off last year by winning his first 13 decisions but then suffered a flexor strain that ended his season in early September. On Thursday, the 28-year old righty threw a 10-minute bullpen session and said he felt no lingering effects from the injury.
"He looked like Stras to me," Baker said. "That was very, very impressive to me. He told me he was ready and he worked hard this winter. He's in great shape."
The Nationals open their 2017 season in Washington against the Miami Marlins.