WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer was encouraged by his ability to move around Sunday morning, after an MRI confirmed what he called a minor right hamstring tweak. He can walk without any issue, was still able to run and even played light catch during batting practice as he usually does the day after his start. At one point, Scherzer even began bouncing around like a boxer to show off his mobility.
Even with an encouraging diagnosis, manager Dusty Baker said after Sunday's 11-8 loss in the regular-season finale that Scherzer's injury would "probably" affect the Nationals rotation for the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile against the Cubs.
"He's going to be fine," Baker said. "It's just a matter of we got to determine when that is."
The series begins begins Friday at Nationals Park, where Scherzer was almost certain to take the mound for Game 1. Scherzer did not want to speculate on his status, but he did acknowledge that he could also start Game 2 of the series if the team wanted to give him an extra day and still be on normal rest if a Game 5 were necessary. With right-hander Stephen Strasburg as an enticing Game 1 backup plan, that scenario could be an option for the Nats.
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"That's tough to say right now. We're not even 24 hours out," Scherzer said as he wore a compression sleeve on his leg. "We're still trying to get all the doctors to take a look at this and make sure that we have the absolute correct diagnosis. But we have a really, really good idea of what we've got here."
Scherzer exited in the fourth inning of Saturday night's 4-1 loss to the Pirates after he landed awkwardly while throwing a pitch in the fourth inning. Had that been a playoff game, Scherzer said he absolutely could have kept pitching, but the club decided to play it safe.
Scherzer is coming off a season that puts him as one of the favorites to win the National League Cy Young Award. He made 31 starts and surpassed 200 innings for the fifth consecutive season (200 2/3 innings pitched in 2017) with 268 strikeouts and a 0.90 WHIP, both of which lead the NL. He was cruising through his start Saturday night -- giving up one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts -- before injury struck.
"That's kind of what's going to get lost in all this. Last night, I felt like I was really sharp in that game," Scherzer said. "I was executing with all my pitches. Slider, cutter, curveball, change. Felt like I was on top of that. Moving the fastball around as well. From a stuff standpoint, I was really, really happy."
Instead, he now has to deal with another nagging injury in a season full of them. He has worked through neck stiffness that cost him two starts and caused him to leave another early. He was struck in the left calf with a line drive in early September that limited his start. And now he will have to manage his hamstring in the coming days before the playoffs begin, which will require building up strength and mobility to insure the injury doesn't reoccur.
"Frustrating as all get-out," Scherzer said about the numerous injuries. "I've done such a good job of taking care of my body over the course of my career. I've never come out of starts, and this year, I think I've come out of three.
"That's frustrating for me, because I always take pride on pitching, pitching deep into games, and taking the ball every fifth day. Unfortunately, some of these injuries are out of my control right now because I'm doing everything I can to stay out there on the mound and try to be healthy, but unfortunately I got a few ailments."