Scherzer raring to go for spring opener

Nats ace has been in Florida since early Jan.; defense aces final full-squad workout

February 22nd, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Since Max Scherzer arrived in West Palm Beach at the beginning of January, he’s thrown too many bullpen sessions to count. There was his now-renowned first bullpen after pitchers and catchers reported, filled with swearing for missing spots to imaginary batters. There was the live batting practice session when he stared down Juan Soto.

Spring workouts are necessary prep for the long season, but Scherzer is ready to finally face some competition. He’ll get to do so for the first time this spring on Saturday, when the Nationals host the Astros for their Grapefruit League opener.

“There’s nothing like getting on a mound and having a hitter up there who’s ready to swing the bat, and you’ve got to try to execute some pitches,” Scherzer said. "It’s fun to get out there, spin the ball and just face hitters.”

Howie Kendrick and Michael A. Taylor are also expected to be in the starting lineup Saturday night, according to manager Dave Martinez, who did not reveal his entire lineup but said he would ease some of his regulars into action. Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Zimmerman and other veterans will debut later in the week.

But Scherzer will be ready to give Nationals fans some reprieve from the long winter. He would normally prefer to throw two live batting practice sessions before his first start, but he thought it would be too much stress to do that and still start on Saturday. He made up for it by simulating two innings during his first session.

“They asked if I could do that right out of the chute,” Scherzer said. “I said, ‘I haven’t done that ever before, but yeah, I can do that.'”

Final full-squad workout

For the final full-squad workout before Grapefruit League play begins, every player in Nats camp gathered at Field 3 on Friday for a drill of 15 simulated game situations led by Martinez.

The rules: If the defense completes a play successfully, they move on. If someone makes an error, they do it over. Make another error on the same play, add five more plays for everyone. The drill emphasizes baserunning and defense, two things Martinez has focused on most this spring.

The Nationals finished the drill in 16 plays.

“They were great,” Martinez said. “The effort level was tremendous. ... It was crisp and that’s what I want to see.”

Worth noting

The Nationals usually spread their workouts across four practice fields, with players sometime using the bullpens or batting cages at the same time. He can’t watch it all, so how does Martinez decide where to stand on any given day?

“For instance, during defense [workouts], I went out to the outfield and watched those guys work out and watched them go through their defensive drills,” Martinez said. “I wanted to see Michael [Taylor], [Brian] Dozier and [Wilmer] Difo hit, so I watched that group. And then I went to watch a little bit of [Victor] Robles hit at the end there. Every day, I like to pick a couple guys to see what I want to see, and then just roam around."

Up next

Watch live on MLB.TV when the Nationals host the Astros for the Grapefruit League opener Saturday night at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Scherzer will take the ball against right-hander Brady Rodgers from Houston, with Kendrick at second base and Taylor roaming center field. First pitch is at 6:35 p.m. ET.