ATLANTA — Max Scherzer said he knew he was “in a bind” a couple of days ago when his right arm wasn’t recovering as quickly as it usually does following his Game 2 start in the National League Championship Series in Atlanta.
That he would not be available to start Game 6 as Los Angeles faced elimination Saturday night became clear, he said, when he showed up to play catch and loosen his arm at Dodger Stadium before the club flew east on Friday. He is holding out hope that, should the Dodgers win and force a Game 7, he will be able to pitch on Sunday.
“My arm’s been locked up the past couple of days,” Scherzer said in front of the Dodgers’ dugout Saturday afternoon, dressed in blue workout shorts and a blue T-shirt. “After that Game 2 start, I knew I was going to be sore for a couple of days, but it was just general muscle soreness.”
Walker Buehler was moved up to start Game 6 on short rest. He had originally been slated to start Game 7.
Scherzer said it is normal to “overcook yourself” in a postseason start and added that his experience in the playoffs has taught him a great deal about his body. He has made 21 career postseason starts and has appeared in five other postseason games as a reliever. He thought that after throwing 79 pitches in his Game 2 outing, which followed a strenuous 13-pitch ninth-inning appearance to preserve the Dodgers’ Game 5 win in San Francisco on Oct. 14, that he had exited in time to recover for his next start.
“I got to basically day four and it felt like day one still,” said Scherzer, who added that he could only comfortably play catch from 60 feet each day since his Game 2 start until Friday and Saturday, when he could finally push back to 90 feet.
“When we came in yesterday, Walker and I were both playing catch at the same time,” Scherzer said. “And he felt like he was in a much better spot than I was.”
Scherzer said Mark Prior, the Dodgers’ pitching coach, was in agreement with Scherzer’s prognosis, and “we all said it together, Walk is the best option for us to pitch Game 6 and I’ll give us whatever I’ve got for Game 7.”
“The way he threw that baseball today gave us a lot of confidence that he can make the start tomorrow,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said.
This is not the first time that Scherzer, 37, has had to adjust mid-series in the postseason. In his time with the Washington Nationals, he was scratched from Game 5 of the 2019 World Series against Houston. He had woken up on the morning of his scheduled start with a stiff neck. Following a cortisone shot, Scherzer started Game 7 and helped pitch the Nationals to the title.
Then, as now, Scherzer had made one relief appearance earlier in the postseason, working one inning in relief against the Dodgers in that year’s division series. This fall, he pitched four times in a 12-day span. While strategizing this postseason with Roberts and the Dodgers’ baseball operations department, Scherzer said, he used his 2019 experience as a reference point, “saying ‘Look, I’ve done this, given where my arm is at, I feel good. The decision is yours. I’m not asking to pitch, but based on my experience, I’d be able to do that.’”
Scherzer added, “I’m replaying every variable in my mind right now to try and understand why I’m in this position.”
One factor possibly complicating things is that Scherzer is a free agent this winter coming off a seven-year, $210 million deal he signed with Washington in January 2015. He said there are “no red flag” areas of his arm that are sore — meaning his elbow or shoulder. He also cited his track record of honesty about his arm’s health.
When pitchers aren’t truthful with their team, Scherzer said, they “take on too much and they blow out. That’s the ultimate risk here.”