There usually isn’t an “easing into” Spring Training period for Max Scherzer. When it’s up to him, he’s ready to jump into a new season of competition at full speed.
This year, though, Scherzer has to dial back that pace after spraining his left ankle while running and doing intervals as part of his conditioning two weeks ago. The 36-year-old right-hander felt discomfort when he attempted to throw a bullpen session. As a result, manager Dave Martinez said the Nationals are going to “slow him down a little bit and take it day to day.”
“It is what it is,” Scherzer said on Friday from West Palm Beach, Fla. “I've had this before. I had the doctors all look at it, and they all think the ankle is fine -- especially long-term. I've just been dealing with some inflammation in the joint, kind of lost some mobilization in the ankle, and that's kind of been the problem. So that's prohibiting me from getting off the mound. But fortunately, through all this, I've been able to keep my strength up and my arm is ready to go. So as soon as I can get that mobility back in the ankle, I'll be off the mound here pretty soon. I don't see this as a long-term injury."
Scherzer has dealt with injuries during previous Spring Trainings, so being limited at this time of year isn’t new to him. What is new for the first time in a while is Scherzer is entering the final season of the seven-year, $210 million deal he signed in January 2015.
“This is the last year on his contract, so he’s going to push himself,” Martinez said. “But we need to be careful with him right now.”
Scherzer is prioritizing making sure his ankle gets healthy and his arm feels strong in February and March over consuming himself with what will happen at the end of this season.
“It’s crazy,” Scherzer said. “Year 7 of the contract. You think you sign a seven-year deal like that's forever. But it's gone by pretty quick, and here we are. Honestly, I don't know, I'm pretty good about tuning all this crap out. For me, it's just show up to the park and win. Come in, do your job and all the contract stuff takes care of itself."
Scherzer is coming off a 2020 season in which he went 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA over 67 1/3 innings. He finished with an above-.500 record for the 11th consecutive year, and he had a rate of more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings for the fourth season in a row. The three-time Cy Young Award winner enters '21 tied with Clayton Kershaw for the fourth-most wins among active pitchers (175), and he is 142 2/3 frames shy of the 2,500-inning milestone.
“I just want him to have the best year of his career, and then whatever happens after that, happens,” Martinez said. “Would I love to have him back here for many, many years? Absolutely. But right now, we'll take it in stride. The biggest thing right now is to get him healthy, get him back on the mound, because right now, he's a little ornery, because he wants to be out there with his teammates and we're not allowing him to do that. We're kind of trying to take it easy. But he wants to be out there on the mound, pitching [and] competing, because he's always competing with himself and he wants to get back out there and playing.”