ATLANTA — Los Angeles Dodgers ace Max Scherzer insisted Saturday that he’s not injured and is optimistic he can pitch again if the National League Championship Series is extended to a seventh game, but he simply was too sore to start Game 6.
It’s also quite possible he has thrown his last pitch for the organization, with the Dodgers trailing Atlanta 3 games to 2 in the best-of-seven series.
Scherzer, 37, the three-time Cy Young winner who’s eligible for free agency after the World Series, called it “general soreness,’’ that caused him to be scratched for Game 6.
“I’m trying to do everything to get the muscles healthy,’’ Scherzer said, “that’s all I can do. ..It’s just a timing thing. For me, personally I just need an extra day. It will give me more gas in the tank.
“The arm is good. It’s just how much do I have in the tank and how long can I go.’’
Certainly, he could have lied to the Dodgers and said he felt fine taking the mound in Game 6, but to him, that wasn’t even an option.
“I don’t lie,’’ he said. “Guys when they’re lying, take on too much, and they blow out. That’s the ultimate risk here.”
He refuses to blame anyone but himself for pitching the ninth inning and closing out Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, but certainly the extra stress caused him to pitch only 4 2/3 innings in Game 2, throwing just 79 pitches for the third-shortest outing of his postseason career.
The Dodgers say they understand the decision. Teammate Trea Turner, who played the past seven years with Scherzer in Washington, called him one of the fiercest competitors in baseball.
“He’s pitched through a lot of things over the last seven, eight years that I’ve seen,’’ Turner said, “and he’s not pitched through some things. He knows when his body’s available to go or not. So, I think if he could, he would definitely be out there.”
It’s unknown whether Scherzer’s decision will have an impact on returning to the Dodgers, but several of his friends told USA TODAY Sports that he is open to playing elsewhere, and is seeking a three-year contract.
It’s a topic for another day, Scherzer says. All that matters now is that he was unable to pitch Game 6 and has no idea how long he could pitch if the Dodgers force a Game 7 on Sunday night at Truist Field.
“My arm’s been locked up for the last couple of days,’’ he said. “After that Game 2 start, I knew I’d be sore for a couple of days, but it was just general muscle soreness. That’s normal when you get to the playoffs. I just wasn’t recovering. I got to Day 4 and it felt like Day 1 for me.’’
It wasn’t until Saturday that Scherzer was even able to throw 90 feet, he said, after being limited to 60 feet the previous four days. He and Walker Buehler were throwing at the same time at Dodger Stadium, and with Scherzer’s soreness, the staff decided Buehler was more prepared to start Saturday on short rest than Scherzer.
“The good news is I finally was able to turn the corner on the off-day,’’ he said. “I came in today and felt even better when I played catch up to 90 feet. I’m progressing. I’m not dealing with a sprain, I’m not dealing with a strain, I’m just dealing with muscle fatigue. It just takes time.’’
He’s cautiously optimistic he could start if there is a Game 7, and the Dodgers are counting on him without knowing how long he could last.
“Very, very confident,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “What he will be able to give us, and how long, I don’t know the answer. I don’t think anybody does. But as far as him taking the baseball [Sunday], if we put ourselves in that position, I think, I feel very confident. …
“He just couldn’t get over that kind of muscle fatigue where typically you flush it out after running and Day 2, Day 3, you’re back. He just never got to that point. So today the way he threw the baseball gave us a lot of confidence that he can make the start.’’
Scherzer says he doesn’t regret volunteering to pitch in relief in Game 5, saying he doesn’t believe his soreness is strictly from his usage that game, when he threw 13 pitches.
“It’s a culmination of everything,’’ he said. “It’s never just one outing that gets you in trouble, it’s kind of all of the outings added together. It’s not a true injury. It’s muscle fatigue type stuff.
“I’m trying to replay every variable in my head right now trying to understand why I’m in this position.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating, but I don’t know what else I’d do different.’’
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