- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2017

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The radar gun readings at First Data Field show the lack of pain in Max Scherzer’s right ring finger, the one that was an issue in the offseason and prevented him from being in line to make his third Opening Day start on Monday for the Washington Nationals.

Across the lower black strip of the scoreboard in the New York Mets’ spring training park, Scherzer fastballs were reported at 96 and 97 mph. The home plate umpire announced the strike, pivoted to his left to signal it, then the big numbers flashed onto the board Monday.

Scherzer’s second spring training outing lasted five scoreless innings and reconfirmed his finger is healed. There are other things on his mind now: His workload, mechanics and limited time remaining to prepare.

Scherzer said his shoulders weren’t balanced at times Monday. On occasion, he would pull his fastball or his slider would leak to the wrong side of the plate. Still, he was able to throw with force if not his preferred efficiency and made it to 85 pitches.

“Everything’s good physically,” Scherzer said. “That was a good outing to be able to, again, get tired there in the fifth inning and have to execute pitches. I kind of battled myself all day mechanically, even though the ball was coming out of my hand well, I wasn’t efficient. Three walks. Those are the little things that eat at you, where I need to continue to get better at, because as I’m rushing through spring here, I have one more start to get it dialed-in here before the season.”

Scherzer has moved back to the two-finger fastball grip he has always used; he used three when first managing his achy finger in the spring. Leftover pain in the finger from a stress fracture that occurred last season has been relieved. The results against the Mets’ split squad team — just two hits and seven strikeouts in five innings — indicate Scherzer is on track, despite the late start to his spring. Monday was just his second spring outing against a major-league opponent.

Well, a chunk of it was major-league opposition. Little-known players like Gene Cone, Phillip Evans and Travis Taijeron were at the bottom of the New York lineup. In the middle was a more well-known name, though one also with less experience than those obscure minor-league hitters.

Tim Tebow played left field and batted seventh for the Mets. He did not do well against Scherzer, who won his second Cy Young Award last season. Tebow’s first at-bat lasted three pitches, all of which were fastballs. He swung twice and connected with nothing other than the well-heated Florida air. His second at-bat was extended by Scherzer throwing one ball in addition to three strikes. Tebow struck out on four pitches that time. Each time Tebow arrived at the plate, the crowd became boisterous and antsy. Scherzer was aware.

“You got the whole stadium standing and cheering for that,” Scherzer said. “That’s always going to fire you up. You always want to get him out.”

Tebow’s only contact of the day came when he hit a dribbler back to relief pitcher Enny Romero. Like Scherzer, Koda Glover overpowered Tebow with fastballs in his final at-bat, leaving him 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

Trea Turner and Bryce Harper homered twice in Washington’s 6-0 win. Nationals manager Dusty Baker said Harper told him three or four days ago he was ready for the regular season. That intimated that Harper’s eight home runs in Florida had him prepared for the real thing. But, Harper was a little more direct about his preferences, and it had little to do with his swing.

“I think it’s just more not wanting to play anymore down here,” Harper said. “So just trying to get my work in when I can and do the things I can to get to D.C. Biggest thing, just trying to stay healthy and get up there.”

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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