WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer probably will miss the Washington Nationals' opener against Miami on April 3 because of a stress fracture in his right ring finger.
The stress fracture had caused Scherzer to change the grip on his fastball, placing three fingers on top of the ball instead of two, but he went back to his old grip Thursday during his first game action this year, a three-inning stint in a minor league exhibition against New York Mets' Triple-A players.
"That's the really good news today," said Scherzer, who struck out five. "It's good to be back to the normal grip. From here on out, I'll be obviously progressing that way. Now I'm dialing it in, trying to hit locations and really trying to pitch with the fastball again. Now I feel back."
Scherzer threw 35 of 54 pitches for strikes, mixing in some three-fingered fastballs. He had two quick innings but struggled with his control in the second.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux said Scherzer will start for the Nationals on Wednesday against St. Louis.
"We'll take the training wheels off," Maddux said.
Scherzer he will get three more starts before season and said he expects to break camp with the big league club.
"I should be progressing at a pretty good clip now to allow myself to be able to find a way to start the regular season," Scherzer said.
A 32-year-old right-hander, Scherzer was 20-7 last season.
Manager Dusty Baker said of Scherzer's opening-day availability: "At this point, probably no."
"Opening day I'm sure is important to him but not as important as the rest of the season," the manager added. "I'm sure he's not thinking DL. We're not thinking DL until that time gets here. If that time gets here, we'll make alternative plans."
Scherzer had thrown batting practice twice during spring training. He needed only eight pitches in the first inning, striking out two.
Scherzer said the baseball "felt like a cue ball" in the second, when he walked two batters, hit another and allowed a two-run single to a batter who was jammed. He reached his inning pitch limit of 30, prompting the Nationals to take advantage of the flexibility offered by minor league games by ending the inning.
"We wanted to get him up and down three times," Maddux said. "At 30 pitches in the second we were able to shut it right off at 30. That's why he was pitching over there."
Scherzer walked one batter in the 16-pitch third.
On the main field, Gio Gonzalez pitched five hitless innings in Washington's 3-1 victory over New York.