WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner whose remarkably durable arm paved the way for a Hall of Fame career, exited his start Friday night against the San Francisco Giants after just 12 pitches due to a right groin injury.
Scherzer, 36, retired the first batter of the game and threw one pitch to No. 2 hitter Brandon Belt before Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez and athletic trainer Paul Lessard came to the mound. After consulting with them, Scherzer threw one warm-up pitch and then made a quick left turn to the Nationals dugout.
Scherzer left the stadium for an MRI exam, which he said revealed no strain; he says he is day-to-day with the injury.
"It could subside fairly quickly," Scherzer said after the Nationals bullpen gave up just four hits in a 1-0 loss to the Giants. "Going into the clubhouse I was frusutrated as all get out. Turns out a little grab was all it was."
His health has significant ramifications for the Nationals and, perhaps, the landscape of next month's trade deadline. Scherzer is in the final season of a seven-year, $210 million contract, during which he won the 2016 and 2017 National League Cy Young Awards and posted two other top-three finishes. Perhaps most notably, he started Game 7 of the 2019 World Series after he was scratched from Game 5 due to a crippling nerve injury in his neck.
The Nationals won that game and their only Series title in a year Scherzer was twice placed on the injured list due to back ailments.
But this season, the Nationals are 25-34 after Friday's loss to the Giants. While they are far from out of contention in the surprisingly mediocre National League East, any further fall from contention could spur them to place Scherzer on the trade market, where he'd immediately become the game's most prized commodity.
All of that – the Nationals' contention hopes, Scherzer's trade value followed by his pending free agency – fell into some doubt with one surprising mound exit.
Now, Martinez and the medical staff must handle Scherzer's injury when the notoriously dogged competitor will want to return with dispatch.
"He's a tough guy, as you know," Martinez said. "But we don't want this to get worse.
"It was a lot better news than I thought. I thought it was a muscle pull in his groin. It was not that. But we’re not out of the woods yet."
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Scherzer was replaced on the mound by swingman Paolo Espino, who will likely be unavailable for Saturday's doubleheader, the two seven-inning games necessitated by a Thursday rainout. The Nationals had not yet announced a Game 2 starter.
Their rotation already is missing 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, who is out with a neck strain.
Scherzer's arm has been remarkably durable through a 14-year career that will send him to Cooperstown.
He has 180 victories and 2,888 strikeouts; he recently passed Jim Bunning for 19th on the all-time list but was publicly ambivalent about the milestone, noting the relative ease with which strikeouts are notched in this era.
He will be 37 next month and has left little doubt he plans to continue pitching into 2022 and beyond.
His 2021 campaign will take at least a short-term detour.
"This is a guy that prepares himself well every day," says Martinez. "To watch him go down after 12 pitches was tough. Mentally tough for me and for his teammates. He’s our guy. If anything, it's not as bad as we thought."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Max Scherzer leaves Nationals' game vs. Giants in first inning