Max Scherzer says his dead arm in postseason was result of Dodgers' pitch count limit

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  • Los Angeles Dodgers
    Los Angeles Dodgers
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  • New York Mets
    New York Mets
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  • Max Scherzer
    Max Scherzer
    American baseball player
Atlanta, GA - October 17: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer reacts while Atlanta Braves' Joc Pederson.
Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer reacts after giving up a two-run home run to the Braves' Joc Pederson during Game 2 of the 2021 National League Championship Series. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Max Scherzer made his first media appearance as a member of the New York Mets on a Zoom conference call Wednesday. He was joined by his agent Scott Boras in Texas, where he’s been one of eight players representing the union in negotiations with owners in the final hours before the league’s collective bargaining agreement expires Wednesday night. Mets owner Steve Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler represented his new club, which currently doesn’t employ a manager.

They all gushed positivity as people always do for these introductory news conferences. The Mets acquired a future Hall of Famer to place alongside Jacob deGrom atop their starting rotation. Scherzer was guaranteed $130 million over three seasons — the highest annual average value for a player in major league history — after his 37th birthday. He'll report to spring training minutes from his home in Jupiter, Fla., giving him more time with his family. Smiles all around.

Scherzer’s final media appearance as a Dodger wasn’t as cheery. It happened in front of the visiting dugout at Truist Park hours before Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. He explained why he wouldn’t make his scheduled start that night against the Atlanta Braves to keep the Dodgers’ season alive. He informed the Dodgers the day before that he couldn’t. He told them his arm was dead after a heavy workload over the previous 11 days. Walker Buehler instead started. The Dodgers’ back-to-back World Series title hopes went poof that night.

At the end of Wednesday’s virtual meeting with reporters, Scherzer addressed the anticlimactic conclusion to his brief Dodgers career. He said he told the Dodgers he felt confident he could handle an increased workload in the postseason because he successfully handled one during the Washington Nationals’ World Series run in 2019. So he was willing to pitch in relief to close out Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants three days after throwing seven innings in Game 3.

Three days later, he ran out of stamina in 4 1/3 innings in Game 2 of the NLCS. He was slated to start six days later in Game 6 but his arm never recovered. He was acquired from the Nationals in July for that moment and he decided he couldn’t deliver. He said he was flummoxed. Upon reflection, he believes the Dodgers’ pitching plan during the regular season led to the disappointing ending.

“We made decisions to give extra days out on a consistent basis and watch our pitch counts for the postseason,” Scherzer said. “I just feel like that lowered my capacity so that when I tried to do the 2019 formula of being able to pitch out of the 'pen, my arm wasn't able to respond to that because I came from a lower pitch count, per se. That's why I didn't get hurt. That's why I didn't hurt myself, but I was definitely compromised trying to execute what I was trying to do in 2019.”

A Dodgers official said the team didn't know of Scherzer's theory until he told reporters. The club expressed interest in re-signing him, but weren't willing to offer three guaranteed years. In the end, the Dodgers weren't close to landing him, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Scherzer said the Nationals consistently let him throw 100 to 110 pitches every five days in 2019, which allowed him to be sufficiently prepared for an onerous postseason.

He didn’t mention that he was two years older nor that he had been dealing with nagging leg injuries all season. The ailments were enough for Scherzer to tell the Nationals that he would accept a trade only to a contending team on the West Coast because he thought warmer weather would be better for his body. Ultimately, it came down to the Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

New Mets pitcher Max Scherzer participates in a video news conference Wednesday.
Former Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer participates in a video news conference Wednesday after finalizing a $130-million, three-year deal with the New York Mets. (New York Mets / Associated Press)

Scherzer, like every other major leaguer, was also transitioning from a pandemic-shortened 60-game season to a full 162-game campaign.

Scherzer made 11 regular-season starts as a Dodger, tallying a 1.98 ERA with 89 strikeouts and eight walks. He threw 109 pitches across seven innings in his debut before a rain-shorted outing of 3 1/3 innings. He then averaged 96.3 pitches per game in his final nine starts, including one that was limited to 76 pitches because of a minor hamstring injury. He logged more than 100 pitches five times.

He pitched into the seventh inning in five starts and into the eighth inning three times. He probably would’ve been given the green light to pitch deep into his final two starts, but he was roughed up for 10 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings. Those performances might have cost him the Cy Young Award.

In the end, he made seven starts on five days' rest and four on four days' rest. Overall, he averaged 94 pitches in 30 starts for the Nationals and Dodgers. He then threw 296 pitches across 16 2/3 innings in four postseason games in a 12-day span.

“I've never asked the manager for the ball and gotten hurt like that — or not be able to make my next start,” Scherzer said. “That's just never happened to me in all my years of pitching. You can ask all my managers. If I tell you I can go, I can go.

“This was a first time I ran into something like that where I really thought I could do something, and it didn't show up. It took me a while to search through that. Like, what happened? What was the difference? Why was I not able to execute, for me, the 2019 postseason plan and that's what I came to.”

In 2019, he missed nearly a month with a back injury before rejoining the Nationals in late August for seven starts in the stretch run. He pitched on five days' rest three times and four days' rest three times. He pitched into the seventh inning once. He averaged 94 pitches. Overall, he averaged 103 pitches in a career-low 27 starts that season and threw at least 110 pitches in seven games. He didn’t reach that mark once in 2021.

In the 2019 playoffs, Scherzer made one one-inning relief appearance — in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. That came three days after throwing 77 pitches in five innings in the wild-card game and three days before tossing 109 pitches across seven innings in Game 4. His final three playoff appearances were all starts on at least four days' rest. He started Game 1 of the World Series and had his second start pushed back to Game 7.

The numbers indicate his workload was slightly heavier in 2019 than in 2021 when healthy, but he also accumulated fewer innings. Scherzer believes that’s the reason he broke down in October and he knows his body better than anyone else. The Mets just hope it doesn’t happen again if they reach October.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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