Nationals take first steps to protects arms which won them World Series

Todd Dybas
NBC Sports Washington

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Max Scherzer let out a grunt after throwing pitch 56 on Thursday. A final fastball ended his first throwing session of the spring, made Hunter Strickland smile and sent everyone into the clubhouse to close the first day.

Scherzer was in the last batch of Group A throwers. He threw the longest, like he does every spring, causing his teammates to watch while he speaks out counts and tries to execute sliders against ghost batters. Thursday he did face one hitter: pitching coach Paul Menhart stood in both batter's boxes during the session.

Sean Doolittle also threw what he called a "touch-and-feel" session. He asked catcher Raudy Read to stand for a dozen or so pitches so Doolittle could target his fastball up in the zone. This is his most important location and a natural fit for first-day throwing.

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But, he won't be back on his typical schedule. The Nationals begin spring training by managing two competing goals: they want to soften the start for their pitchers who works all the way to Halloween last season while also being ready for Opening Day on March 26 like any other season.

The process of pause -- in some cases -- comes from a schedule Menhart worked out with manager Davey Martinez. In the past, the Nationals had just two throwing groups. This year, Groups A, B and C exist. Most pitchers will work every third day instead of every two days.

"We'll limit them to every three days," Martinez said. "We might hold them back. Instead of starting so they'll have more live BPs at first before they get in a game to build up their pitch count."

The pitchers agree on two ideas: they were beat at the end of the World Series; they feel better now.

Max Scherzer arrived Jan. 1. He marks Dec. 1 for the start of his usual throwing and offseason exercise process. He was able to hit the date despite pitching Oct. 30. After Game 7 of the World Series, Scherzer said he was going to be sore for a long time. He let his arm rest from the use and head rest from the hangover. He feels normal now.

"Right where I need to be," Scherzer said.

Tanner Rainey pitched into September then through October for the first time in his pro career. He threw batting practice to his younger brother, but mainly took time to rest in the offseason. He didn't start throwing until the middle of January.

Patrick Corbin -- who made five relief appearances in the postseason -- said his body feels well after easing into his offseason work. Corbin said his body, more than his arm, was worn out once everyone left Houston.

"For sure towards the end last year, we were all exhausted," Corbin said. "I took some time off, about a month, where I relaxed, recovered then I slowly got back into it."

Which is how spring training will start for most of them. Stephen Strasburg and Corbin were slated to throw Friday. Doolittle is back on a mound Saturday after a very brief Thursday session. Scherzer, well, he's his own animal.

But for all, the idea is measured preparation in order to be ready for the first day in New York.

"I want these guys to understand, we're preparing ourselves for March 26," Martinez said. "We've got to come out of the gate. I want us to really come out of the gate fired up ready to go ready to compete."

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Nationals take first steps to protects arms which won them World Series originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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