Max Scherzer, who threw a season-high 112 pitches Sunday in his most recent start, said he feels good. The challenge for the Mets will be to keep the co-ace feeling that way while striking a balance between Scherzer being fresh and being prepared.
During the 2021 postseason, the Dodgers could not find that middle ground. Scherzer was typically excellent in the wild-card game and Game 3 of the NLDS, then came back three days later, in Game 5, to throw an inning out of the bullpen to finish off the Giants.
Three days later, however, he was wobbly during Game 2 of the NLCS in a loss to the Braves. Scherzer was expected to start Game 6 of that series, but was scratched because his arm was “overcooked,” so he watched as his Dodgers were knocked out.
Scherzer and the Mets have discussed the circumstances that led to that dead arm.
“It’s something that we’ve talked about, wanting to make sure we don’t repeat that … process,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said before the Mets’ 7-3 win over the Nationals. “Can we learn from that process? Yes. And we have learned from that process, and we’ll make those adjustments accordingly.”
The adjustments are tricky because Scherzer has blamed a lack of heavy usage entering the postseason last year for his arm failing to bounce back. Scherzer, who was used frequently in carrying the Nationals to the 2019 World Series, averaged about 94 pitches per outing in six September starts with the Dodgers. Because his arm did not respond in the postseason as it usually does, he believed he was not fully stretched out.
In the Mets’ 1-0 loss to the Rockies on Sunday, Scherzer extended himself further than he has this season, which he said “sets you up for more things in the future.”
With just over a month remaining in the regular season, Hefner doesn’t have a specific inning or pitch total he wants Scherzer to reach in his remaining starts to ensure he will be ready for October. The Mets are relying more upon Scherzer’s knowledge of his own body to know when to continue and when to stop.
“There’s some games where we can push it. If he’s saying, ‘I’m good,’ then we trust him to continue to push it,” Hefner said. “There’s other games where he’s like, ‘That’s good, that’s enough, I’m good for the day.’ ”
Hefner said Scherzer and the rest of the rotation getting an extra day between starts, thanks to a day off this past Monday and David Peterson entering the rotation Friday, is a reflection of wanting to keep the starters as fresh as possible and not a sign there is fatigue.
The Mets are trying to ease off the gas while allowing Scherzer to accelerate when he feels it necessary to build his arm up. Each starter is expected to get an extra day of rest the next time through the rotation, too, because they will be off Thursday.
Scherzer and the Mets are trying to learn from what went wrong last season, but they do not believe the error lies in his emergence from the Dodgers’ bullpen. Scherzer, a postseason legend, has been turned into a reliever five times to throw an emergency playoff inning.
According to Hefner, the arm issue last year has not scared off the Mets from considering Scherzer out of the bullpen in between his starts.
“To win a game? To end a series or continue a series? It’s certainly on the table,” Hefner said.
There’s still plenty of time left before October. The 38-year-old, who is expected to start Saturday against his old Nationals club, will have about a half-dozen more regular-season starts to prepare his arm. He averaged 102.5 pitches per outing in August, and it will be worth watching to see whether the number increases this month.
“He’s in a really good spot right now,” Hefner said. “We’ll continue to trust him and do whatever we can to make sure he’s as fresh and as readily available to throw as many pitches in as many innings as possible in the postseason.”