First Spring Training workout brings worry about Scherzer

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Spring Training is supposed to be about sunshine, warm weather and optimism. The Nationals got all three on the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers. But a dark cloud appeared with the news that Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is still dealing with discomfort on his pitching hand.

Initially, the injury was diagnosed as a finger strain late last season. But when it didn’t get better, Scherzer underwent another evaluation in December. That’s when it was discovered that he had a hairline fracture of the knuckle on his ring finger.

He still can’t grip the ball properly, and has just begun to throw with a baseball to get his arm and shoulder in shape. Even Scherzer admits he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to pitch Opening Day.

“In most of my day-to-day life things, I don’t experience any pain, it’s just throwing a baseball is the one thing that hurts,” Scherzer told the media Thursday.

If Scherzer is unavailable, then Stephen Strasburg would be the leading candidate to start April 3. Strasburg was the Opening Day starter for three straight years from 2012-14 before Scherzer got the nod the last two.

“There’s nothing that any of us can do, really, until he feels 100 percent,” said manager Dusty Baker. “You certainly don’t want to rush him, because we’re thinking about, you know, the long haul.”

Strasburg said he felt good in his first bullpen session. His season was cut short the final month of 2016 because of a strained flexor mass near his elbow.

Strasburg worked on adding lean muscle this offseason. He ran six-to-seven miles at least three times a week on the San Diego beach.

The players are raving about their new Spring Training digs, which will be even nicer when they are completed. Right now, the whole facility is a construction zone. Workers are on 12-hour shifts, dealing with such things as plumbing, painting and putting down sod.

The first home Spring Training game will be held on February 28 against the Houston Astros, the Nationals’ co-tenants of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

The Nats’ facilities are on the first base side of the stadium, the Astros’ on the third base side. But if you didn’t walk past the big orange and blue “H,” you wouldn’t even know the ‘Stros were there. That’s how separated both teams are.

Just about everything the players need is already completed: Four fields for each team, including two that mimic the dimensions of Nationals Park. The batting cages and pitching mounds are already being used and carpet was laid down in the Nationals’ clubhouse this week.

Still on the to-do list: The lap pool. That should be up and running on Monday.

However, when asked if it will include a Tiki Bar, GM Mike Rizzo said, “No way.”

For now it’s more work than play at Spring Training.

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