Nationals ace Scherzer says he's ready to return

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer says he's all set to pitch. Not in the minors. In the majors. For the Washington Nationals. As soon as possible.

On the injured list for all but one game over the past five weeks because of trouble with a back muscle, the three-time Cy Young Award winner played catch at Nationals Park on Wednesday, a day after pitching the equivalent of about two innings in a simulated game, and declared himself ready to go.

"I want to get in a game now. I'm ready to get in a game," Scherzer said in the home dugout, soaked with sweat after his throwing session. "I think I'm ready to pitch in the big leagues."

Asked if he has a particular day in mind, the right-hander replied: "I'm itching to get out there. So whenever they'll let me."

Manager Dave Martinez said later he still needed to speak to Scherzer and the team's head trainer to "map out his next steps" before making a decision on his ace's status. But Martinez did not rule out the possibility that Scherzer could pitch this weekend against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Nationals have not announced who will start Saturday or Sunday.

Scherzer is 9-5 with a 2.41 ERA and 189 strikeouts in 2019 for the Nationals, who began Tuesday atop the league's wild-card standings and six games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

He initially went on the IL with a back issue on July 13, retroactive to three days earlier, and came back to start against the Colorado Rockies on July 25. After allowing three runs in five innings, he returned to the IL for what the team said was a mild strain of his rhomboid -- a muscle connected to the shoulder blade.

"This was kind of an endurance injury, where when I get into a game and get into ... the upper pitch counts, I guess that's when I was injuring myself, because nothing else made sense," Scherzer said. "I don't second-guess anything about taking the ball or anything like that. Every time in my life I've ever thrown a ball at 100 percent, I always take the mound. I wouldn't have changed anything. It's just now trying to understand what this injury is and what I have to do to train around it and how to pitch around it, as well."

Scherzer averaged 106.7 pitches through his first 19 starts this season, including four appearances of at least 115.

He and Martinez agreed that whenever Scherzer does get into a game, he will operate under a pitch count as he works his way back.

"We have to put him on a limit," Martinez said. "I don't want him to come out and say, 'I'm going to go as much as I can.' That's not going to be the case."

Both were pleased that Scherzer felt well Wednesday; they knew that would be more significant than how he was immediately after his simulated game.

"That's why it's been so tricky. It hasn't been the day that I've actually pitched, because when I've taken the mound, I'm going at full tilt, with normal velocity," Scherzer said. "It's the day after that's really been the tricky thing in all of this. That's why I've been scratching my head, left and right, trying to figure this thing out."