WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Max Scherzer has come to grips with a finger injury - by coming up with a new, unusual grip for his fastball.
The Washington Nationals ace won the NL Cy Young Award last season despite a stress fracture on his right ring finger in the second half. The problem didn’t totally heal during the winter, so Scherzer is trying something different this spring.
“It is strange that I am throwing with three fingers,” Scherzer said.
His normal fastball grip — the one used by nearly every pitcher in the pros — employs two fingers on top of the ball with the ring finger bent along the side, providing stability in the hand.
That formation aggravates Scherzer’s injury by pressing the ball onto the knuckle. Earlier this spring, he straightened the ring finger, placing it on top of the ball along with his middle and index finger, a grip that alleviates the pressure and pain.
“What else am I going to do?” Scherzer said. “I’m willing to do it. I want to do it. It’s just part of what I’ve got to go out there and do - to pitch right now.”
Scherzer figures that altering his grip affords the knuckle some ability to heal while also allowing him to continue to build up arm strength. It’s only the fastball grip that bothers the knuckle.
“If they didn’t let me do this then I’d be sitting here trying to test the two-finger grip left and right, and probably be hurting it even more,” Scherzer said. “If you let me throw it three fingers, I’m actually healing.”
On Tuesday, Scherzer faced live hitters for the first time this spring, throwing a live batting practice session to minor league hitters on one of the complex’s back fields prior to the Nationals’ game against Boston.
With manager Dusty Baker and general manager Mike Rizzo looking on, Scherzer worked from both the windup and the stretch, simulating two innings of action.
“It felt good to actually get out there and face hitters, have them swing at stuff, going through my routine, warming up in between innings,” Scherzer said. “That’s all fun.”
Scherzer threw 44 pitches during the outing, the majority of which were fastballs.
The Nationals didn’t have a radar gun present, but Scherzer said he didn’t sense a drop in velocity with the three-fingered grip. He said it seemed to him the ball had the same spin as it normally did with a two-finger grip.
“It looked good to me,” new Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said. “It came out of his hand well and had good carry.”
Scherzer doesn’t know the timeline for his next action and wouldn’t commit to the next step, which could be a simulated game or even Grapefruit League action.
“We don’t have a target day because we don’t know how he’s going to come out of this,” Baker said. “We’ll see how he comes out of this.”
The 32-year-old Scherzer went 20-7 last season with a 2.96 ERA and a major league-leading 284 strikeouts. He also won the 2013 AL Cy Young with Detroit.
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