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On Max Scherzer, workload, arm fatigue & his playoff usage with the Dodgers

Scherzer: “This was the first time I ran into something like that, when I really thought I could do something, and it didn’t show up.”

Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Max Scherzer was introduced by the Mets on Wednesday after his three-year, $130 million contract was finalized. During the 44-minute press conference, which also featured Mets owner Steve Cohen, general manager Billy Eppler, and agent Scott Boras, Scherzer said he was healthy following arm fatigue that limited him during the NLCS with the Dodgers.

Scherzer pitched the final inning in relief in Game 5 of the NLDS, three days after starting Game 3 of that series, then had his scheduled Game 1 start in the NLCS pushed back a day by arm fatigue. He was scheduled to start Game 6 but was scratched from that as well.

On Wednesday, Scherzer said his arm was “overcooked,” a phrase he used during the NLCS as well. He said after the playoffs he took about 10 days off before resuming throwing, wanting to make sure there was no structural injury to his right arm.

“I just needed time,” Scherzer said. “I overcooked my arm, or went past the work capacity that I was built up for. Unfortunately, that happened. I didn’t foresee that happening, but it did.”

Scherzer, who like everyone in MLB transitioned from a 60-game season to a full one in 2021, was asked if his arm fatigue was the result of gradual wear and tear or because he pitched in Game 5 of the NLDS in relief.

“My conversations with Doc [Dave Roberts] and [Andrew] Friedman — I had done that in 2019, in the World Series run. I pitched in the wild card game, made a relief appearance, and made a couple more starts, and was able to do that. I thought I was in the same position to do that here in 2021.

“I just thought, reflecting upon that, in Washington I was asked to pitch on the five-day and pitch 100-110 pitches consistently,” Scherzer said. “I was stepping on it all the time, and I loved it. I was built up to throw a much higher work capacity in DC, so when I was asked to do that I felt my arm could respond to that.”

Scherzer with the Nationals in 2019 started the wild card game and pitched five innings, then pitched a scoreless inning in relief three days later at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of the NLDS. He started and won Game 4 of that series, allowing one run in seven innings, on two days rest, the same schedule in 2021 from Game 3 of the NLDS through Game 2 of the NLCS.

But there was a difference between 2019 Scherzer with the Nationals and 2021 Scherzer with the Dodgers.

“Rightfully so with the Dodgers, there was major concern to protect Walker [Buehler] and Julio [Urías]’s innings. I 100-percent support that,” Scherzer said. “We made decisions to give extra days out on a consistent basis and watch our pitch counts for the postseason.

“I just feel like that lowered my work capacity so that when I tried to do the 2019 formula of being able to pitch out of the ‘pen, my arm wasn’t able to respond to that because I came from a lower pitch count, per se. That’s why I didn’t get hurt. That’s why I didn’t hurt myself. But I was definitely compromised from trying to execute what I tried to do in 2019. You learn something new every day.”

Scherzer after getting acquired by the Dodgers in July made 11 regular season starts. Seven came on five days rest, with four on four days rest. He did pitch with extra rest more often than with Washington this year, when nine of his 19 starts came on four days rest.

But compared to 2019 Scherzer — who was two years younger and not coming off a pandemic-shortened season — his workload did decline. Scherzer made 12 starts on four days rest that year and 12 on five or six days rest. This excludes two starts after missing extended time as well as his opening day start.

He averaged 103 pitches per start in 2019, compared to 94 in 2021. His average with the Dodgers was also 94 pitches per start, though by excluding a rain-delayed start and another interrupted by a hamstring injury that average with Los Angeles jumps to 100 pitches per start. Scherzer was understandably extended more often in 2019, throwing at least 110 pitches seven times, while topping out at 109 pitches in 2021 with both the Nationals and Dodgers.

Perhaps Scherzer not getting ridden harder or stretched longer diminished his capacity once the playoffs came around, or maybe contributed to his final two regular season starts that saw him allow 11 runs in 10⅓ innings.

But when Game 5 of the NLDS came, the Dodgers wanted to ride their ace to close out the series between the teams with the two best records in MLB, and Scherzer was more than willing to oblige.

“You can ask all my managers. If I tell you ‘I can go,’ I can go,” Scherzer said Wednesday. “This was the first time I ran into something like that, when I really thought I could do something, and it didn’t show up.”