Max Scherzer ‘unlikely’ to pitch in postseason after injury

Max Scherzer, the man the Texas Rangers hoped would steady their rotation for a deep playoff push, will miss the rest of the regular season, Rangers General Manager Chris Young announced Wednesday. Scherzer left his start Tuesday night with what he described as a triceps spasm, and an MRI exam revealed a low-grade strain of the teres major muscle in the shoulder. He is not expected to need surgery, Young told the Dallas Morning-News. But according to Young, he is “unlikely” to pitch in the postseason.

The blow comes at an anxious time for the Rangers, who enter Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays clinging to the second American League wild-card spot with a mere half-game margin over the Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners.

The Rangers acquired Scherzer from the New York Mets at the trade deadline, surrendering well-regarded prospect Luisangel Acuña, a move they hoped would fill the lingering void left when another high-profile former Met, Jacob deGrom, went down with an elbow injury early in the season. Scherzer went 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA in eight starts and 45 innings for the Rangers, who needed every last one of those innings to halt an August skid that dropped them out of first place in the American League West and into playoff peril.

Max Scherzer takes his battle with Father Time to the Rangers

But for a team that has now lost not one, but two Cy Young-caliber starters to injury, the Rangers’ rotation is not exactly doomed. They still have gritty veteran Nathan Eovaldi, righty Jon Gray, righty Dane Dunning, and deadline acquisition Jordan Montgomery available. They had so much crowding in their rotation that lefty Martín Pérez, an all-star last season, was bumped to the bullpen. Andrew Heaney was also squeezed out of the rotation and could take Scherzer’s spot. Then again, none of them has three Cy Young Awards and a World Series title to their name as Scherzer does.

For the 39-year-old, the setback is the latest — and perhaps most concerning — in an uncomfortable series of injuries he no longer seems able to outrun. After landing on the injured list just once in six and a half seasons with the Washington Nationals, he has encountered more trouble since. He landed on the injured list twice in 2022 with oblique strains, then missed the start of this season with back soreness and a neck spasm. Multiple times this season, he had to push a start back or rejigger his schedule around neck spasms.

All the while, Scherzer emphasized the importance of avoiding an arm injury. He would cut starts short when the oblique pulled or push back a day when the neck felt tight because pitching through that might compromise his mechanics, which could compromise his arm. Oblique strains he could deal with. Neck tightness would subside. But arm injuries, those are something different.

So when he left his start last week with what he described as forearm tightness, it felt far more ominous than any of the nicks and bruises that pushed him out of prior starts. That he made his start Tuesday seemed like a good sign, that maybe he had dodged the worst. But when he left that start and reported a triceps spasm, one he said later was likely related to the forearm issue, it became clear that Scherzer was experiencing something he had not experienced before: Arm trouble, a pitcher’s worst nightmare.

Examined in that light, Wednesday’s news is hardly the worst-case scenario. For now, it seems, Scherzer has avoided the kind of elbow issue that forearm tightness often foretells. The teres major is located below the shoulder blade in the upper back. As of now, he will not need surgery to repair it. An offseason of rest should do it.

In fact, if one is curious how a teres major injury might affect an aging future Hall of Fame starter, Scherzer’s former Mets teammate, Justin Verlander, can provide a convenient case study: Verlander suffered a low-grade teres major strain during spring training, and he was back in the Mets rotation by early May. Perhaps if Scherzer suffered the injury in, say, June, it would not have ended his season. Perhaps if the Rangers can draw their season out to late October … well, who knows. For now, it looks like Scherzer simply needs more time than the season has to give him.

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