- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2017

Max Scherzer is irritated, which is better than severely concerned.

The MRI exam he had performed Saturday night showed what he and the Washington Nationals medical staff thought before he stuck his leg in the noisy tube to figure out what was wrong with his right hamstring. Scherzer said Sunday morning that his problem, initially labeled a hamstring cramp, was a “minor tweak.” He would not specify which game he expects to be ready for in the National League Division Series, which begins Friday in Nationals Park against the Chicago, but indicated that he will be ready. Scherzer even said he would not have come out of Saturday night’s game in the fourth inning were it the postseason. Instead, nothing was at stake, so he begrudgingly left the mound after feeling the cramp.

“I tweaked my hammy,” Scherzer said. “They wanted me to get an MRI. Went there, got the MRI, showed exactly what we thought. Nothing major. More of a tool to help know how we need to treat it. We have a pretty good idea of what we need to be able to do to get back out there. The good news thing about this is, I can walk and run around on this. It’s not a major strain or anything, where it’s debilitating. So I’m pretty upbeat and positive about going forward here.”

Scherzer wandered out to right field around 12:45 p.m. Sunday to play a light game of catch before the Nationals’ 11-6 regular-season ending slog of a loss against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The day produced the longest nine-inning game in the history of the Nationals and the Pirates, the latter of which began play in 1891. It was also the last game of the regular season to end. It took 4:22 and was filled with defensive replacements so the starters, in particular Jayson Werth, could receive final ovations before the postseason.

Back to Scherzer. He had a white compression sleeve around his right leg when he went to throw. Prior, his thoughts about walking and running made him conclude all this attention was rooted in precaution as opposed to major problem. Scherzer said he pulled his left hamstring in 2012 and that this issue was, “nothing like that.”

He was assured of an extensive break regardless of Saturday’s hamstring tweak. The Nationals will have Monday off, and workout Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, before playing Friday at a to-be-determined time against the Central Division-champion Cubs. In a shift during the final weekend of the season, Stephen Strasburg had swapped spots in the rotation with Scherzer, suggesting that Strasburg may have been under consideration to start Game 1 even before Scherzer’s mild hamstring problem. When asked about the change in order, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said Friday, “You can read into whatever you want.”

Beyond the irritation of multiple minor problems like neck tightness and a calf bruise in the past month, and now the hamstring, Scherzer was not pleased that his leg betrayed him on a night he felt so well otherwise. Scherzer said he had every pitch in his arsenal — fastball, cutter, curveball, changeup, slider — under his command. He had been hunting that kind of precision since the aforementioned minor dings had slowed his September workload. Saturday, he, in his view, was where he wanted to be in his final regular-season start. Then, the cramp.

“From a stuff standpoint, I was really, really happy,” Scherzer said. “I was working so hard to get back to that point of being able to execute all the pitches. I really feel like [Saturday] night I was. It just stinks that I came up a little short.”

Scherzer’s workload this coming week will be determined by the team’s medical staff.

“Just the buildup of strength and mobility over the next couple days in this right leg just to insure that this doesn’t happen again; going into the playoffs that I’m as strong as possible,” Scherzer said. “I’m able to walk and run kind of on this right now, even today. When you talk about hammy strains, that would be the first thing to go. That’s not where I’m at.”

Baker said there is a chance Scherzer could not start until Game of the NLDS.

“Well, maybe,” Baker said. “It just depends on what our evaluation of him is and himself. Max’s knows himself pretty well. As you can tell Max can add and subtract. He’s got it all figure out. You know Max.”

Scherzer closed the season with another potent list of statistics. He led the National League in strikeouts, WHIP, hits per nine innings and strikeouts per nine innings despite pitching just 200 ⅔ innings, which is 27 ⅔ innings short of his total from last season when he won the NL Cy Young Award. Scherzer is again among the top candidates to win the award this season. For now, he’s just worried about being right for the postseason.

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