What I’m Hearing: Bob Nightengale on the latest outbreak in MLB
WASHINGTON — As Major League Baseball enjoys a couple days of relative calm in navigating its 60-game season within a pandemic, another unfortunate sidelight to this quickly workshopped season reared its head.
Yet another unplanned exit by an All-Star pitcher.
Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner, exited his third start of the season Wednesday night after a laborious 27-pitch first inning during which his velocity was down.
After the New York Mets defeated the Nationals 3-1, Scherzer said he tweaked his right hamstring Tuesday and it hampered him during his inning of work, ultimately deciding it was not going to get better.
Scherzer gave up one run to the New York Mets and was replaced by Erick Fedde to start the second inning. He had thrown a major league high 112 pitches in his most recent start, and was working with an extra two days of rest after the Nationals had their weekend series in Miami postponed after a coronavirus outbreak on the Marlins.
Scherzer’s injury was another reminder that in this season, managing the virus and conventional player health are interconnected.
He’d had an extra two days of rest because the Nationals’ weekend series at Miami had been postponed. Meanwhile, up in Philadelphia, Phillies ace Aaron Nola was pitching for the first time in 12 days after his club missed more than a week while players were tested after playing a three-game series against the Marlins.
Nola struck out 12 New York Yankees, but Phillies manager Joe Girardi lifted him after six innings and just 88 pitches. The Phillies bullpen lost the game, but for Girardi, that was the cost of doing business in 2020.
“We’ve seen how many injuries there have been in the game up until this point,” Girardi said on a postgame video call. “I have a responsibility to the organization and our fans to win. But I also have a responsibility to the health of our players.”
Scherzer, who turned 36 on July 27, was limited to 27 starts last season thanks to two stints on the injured list with a back injury. Famously, he was scratched from Game 5 of the World Series with a nerve issue in his neck, but after rigorous treatment returned three days later to start Game 7 of the World Series, which the Nationals won.
‘WE JUST HAVE TO SURVIVE THIS TRIP’: Motley crew of Marlins pulls out emotional win in return
SPORTS NEWSLETTER: Sign up now to get top sports headlines delivered daily
While Scherzer downplayed the severity of his injury and said he plans to make his next start, it nonetheless continued an unsettling trend this season of star pitchers succumbing to injury after a most unprecedented several months running up to the start of the season.
After spring training was shut down March 12 due to COVID-19 concerns, a nearly four-month industry shutdown followed, before teams reconvened July 1 for a three-week “summer camp” leading into the July 23 opening night.
Scherzer started that night and was defeated by the New York Yankees, but struck out 10 Toronto Blue Jays over 7 1/3 innings — and 112 pitches — in his second start. He averaged 94.7 miles on his fastball in his first two starts, but it was topping out at 94 and sitting at 92 Wednesday.
Meanwhile, pitchers of all pedigrees have been dropping off rosters, possibly an effect of the shutdown followed by the truncated spring training.
A forearm strain could lead to Tommy John surgery for reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. His Houston Astros manager, Dusty Baker, says closer Roberto Osuna could be headed that route, too. A back injury put Clayton Kershaw on the IL to start the year. St. Louis Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas won’t pitch this season after a forearm strain.
Atlanta Braves ace Mike Soroka is out for the year — and a good portion of 2021, too, after suffering an Achilles’ tendon tear Monday.
And relievers Colin Poche of the Tampa Bay Rays and Tommy Kahnle of the New York Yankees have already undergone Tommy John surgery.
Scherzer says he doesn’t believe the odd spring and summer contributed to his ailment; he believes he will make his next scheduled start.
“I don’t feel like the schedule or the process has had anything to do with it,” he said. “I just tweaked my hamstring. The smart decision was just to come out of the game.”
Scherzer is in the sixth year of a seven-year, $210 million deal with Washington and has been remarkably durable in his career — making between 30 and 34 starts from 2009-2018 before last year’s back woes. Even still, he finished third in 2019 Cy Young voting, continuing a streak of seven consecutive years with at least a top five finish.
This shortened season might have beethe year he ceded ace designation to teammate Stephen Strasburg, the 2019 World Series MVP. Alas, Strasburg has yet to pitch this season, himself, working his way back from a nerve problem in his pitching hand.
The Nationals are also missing reliever Will Harris, who suffered a groin injury shortly after the season began. With just 60 games to play with, any injury is impactful.
“We had to rev these guys up fairly quickly,” says Nationals manager Dave Martinez. “Max, Stras, all these guys – they worked diligently over three months. It’s been really, really hot here, too. That might have something to do with it.
“We’ve got to be really really careful.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Gabe Lacques on Twitter @GabeLacques.
Having the apt skills to play with words to put forth various updates and news relating to the field of technology in an interesting way has made Adrian is a contributor in our organization. He is dedicated to writing articles related to all the up-to-the-minute inventions, launches, updates, and much more happening in the world of technology. In his free time, Adrian offers a guest lecture to kids about the latest inventions.