Baseball / MLB

Nationals star Max Scherzer ready to get going again

AP

With a “2019 World Series Champions” patch stitched onto the right sleeve of his white Washington Nationals jersey, and his eyes — one brown, one blue — open wide, Max Scherzer made it clear as clear can be Saturday that his neck is just fine and his preseason routine is same as ever.

“I played catch probably two weeks after the World Series and I was playing catch OK, so I knew that there was no long-term damage. I did the whole MRI thing and that came away clean, too. Everybody wanted to dot their I’s and cross their T’s and everybody did,” Scherzer said with a chuckle at the club’s annual fan festival at Nationals Park.

“I’m good. I’m strong. I’m good,” he added, as if to emphasize the point. “I can throw a baseball. I’m good.”

The three-time Cy Young Award winner, third in the 2019 NL voting after going 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA and 243 strikeouts in 172½ innings, started his preparation for spring training on Jan. 1, just like he did a year ago.

So what if he basically added a month to his season by playing all the way until the end of October?

“I’ve recovered from our playoff run. I’m back in the training. I feel good. Right where I need to be throwing the ball,” Scherzer said. “I’ll be going into spring training full tilt.”

As if nothing had happened at all last season, when he went on the injured list twice because of an upper back issue, making fewer than 30 starts in a year for the first time since his first season in the majors, then was scratched from Game 5 of the Fall Classic because of a neck problem.

Scherzer did end up making it back to the mound for Game 7, which Washington won against the Houston Astros for the first title in franchise history.

“We got some ideas of different things I’ve got to do,” Scherzer said. “I’m doing different lifts to help try to do some corrective exercises to help make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

If anything, general manager Mike Rizzo assumes, the ever-competitive Scherzer might need a little holding back as pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach, Florida, on Feb. 12 for camp.

“I noticed around Christmas that he felt good about himself, and I know he’s down in Florida doing his thing, so I know he’ll hit the ground running in spring training,” Rizzo said. “And I’m sure we’ll have to have a talk with him to back off a little bit and get ready for the season.”

Elsewhere around the majors on Saturday, outfielder Brett Gardner and the New York Yankees finalized his $12.5 million, one-year contract.

New York agreed to the deal Dec. 13 during the winter meetings, and the 36-year-old took a physical on Tuesday.

His addition, following last month’s $324 million, nine-year contract with pitcher Gerrit Cole, raised the Yankees’ projected luxury tax payroll to about $248 million — the threshold where the highest luxury tax rate starts.

Gardner is the senior member of the Yankees, having spent his entire 12-year big league career in the Bronx. He has a .260 average, 124 homers and 524 RBIs.

He is expected to see time in center field during the first half of the season while Aaron Hicks recovers from offseason Tommy John surgery, then shift back to left when Hicks returns.