An uneasy feeling of anxiety or dread, or maybe both, settled over Citi Field.
Max Scherzer took himself out of his start in the middle of an at-bat against Albert Pujols in the sixth inning of the Mets’ 11-4 win over the Cardinals on Wednesday night. Scherzer threw two sliders to Pujols, the latter causing him to pull the plug on his 87-pitch outing.
The Mets later announced that Scherzer left the game with “discomfort in his left side.” The right-hander will go for an MRI on Thursday, the team said. Scherzer later said he felt a “zing” on his left side in the sixth inning, but he doesn’t believe it’s a major strain. He was hopeful that he caught the injury early enough that it’s not impacting his oblique or intercostal muscles that are within the rib cage.
“I’ve never had a left side injury before,” Scherzer said. “So when I felt it, I just knew, there’s no way you can throw another pitch. So just get out of there.”
Scherzer motioned to the Mets dugout, appearing to repeatedly say, “I’m done. I’m done.” Manager Buck Showalter, pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and an athletic trainer all approached the mound. The meeting was quick. Scherzer departed with the trainer out of his start and into the clubhouse. Scherzer said he has “no idea” whether this injury will cause him to miss his next start, and to make assumptions or guesses before his Thursday morning MRI is foolish.
“He’s been a great self-evaluator and he knows when he’s at a point when he pushes more it’s going to turn into something serious,” Showalter said. “I’m hoping that’s an indicator. He’s not going to put himself in harm’s way.”
The veteran right-hander allowed two runs, one earned, on seven hits with no walks and four strikeouts across 5.2 innings against the Cardinals in his eighth start of the year. The Mets (25-14) picked up Scherzer once he left the game, putting up a five-run rally in the eighth inning courtesy of a three-run home run by Pete Alonso. As the Mets rolled ahead of their 10th win of the month, the mood and atmosphere at Citi Field began to lift.
Winning tends to be the cure for worry. But depending on how much time, if any, Scherzer will be required to miss, the pressure on the Mets to keep winning and adapt that next-man-up mentality will only deepen.
“This is not a sky is falling team,” said Showalter, who has typically expressed positivity when the Mets face challenges or vulnerability.
The Jacob deGrom-less Mets rotation surprised everyone to begin the year, posting a fifth-best ERA (3.28) in the major leagues, good for second-best in the National League right behind the Dodgers (2.59). But Scherzer (2.54 ERA) and Tylor Megill are major reasons for that early rotation success. With Megill already on the injured list indefinitely with right biceps tendinitis, and deGrom (stress reaction on scapula) unexpected to return until late June at best, the Amazin’s cannot afford to lose Scherzer just when they need him to step up and carry the starting staff .
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In the short time Scherzer has been with his new team, the eight-time All-Star quickly turned into a veteran leader in the Mets clubhouse. Fellow rotation mate Chris Bassitt frequently mentions Scherzer as someone he’s learned from and leaned on to improve his own game. Scherzer can also be seen mentoring younger pitchers in the Mets dugout — when he’s not getting thrown out of games for arguing balls and strikes, of course. In just a few months, Scherzer has become a staple on a 2022 Mets squad that has captured first place in the NL East.
“He’s a bulldog,” Alonso said of Scherzer. “I know he loves to compete, but he’s also very smart. If he were to keep pushing and keep going, then I think something a lot worse could happen. … I think he did the right thing. Just want him to recover so we can have him for the most possible time.”
Scherzer, 37, signed a three-year, $130 million contract with the Mets in December, representing a new and thrilling chapter in the Steve Cohen era. Scherzer’s $43 million in average annual value (AAV) topped Gerrit Cole’s deal with the Yankees (nine years, $324 million) for the largest AAV on a contract in MLB history.
The three-time Cy Young winner and future Hall of Famer had just come off an All-Star season between the Nationals and Dodgers. He went 15-4 and posted a career-best 2.46 ERA with 236 strikeouts, the fourth-most in MLB in 2021, across 30 starts. Once he signed the fifth-largest contract in Mets history, Scherzer spent the offseason as a member of the player union’s executive subcommittee, fiercely negotiating with Major League Baseball during the owners’ lockout.
But Scherzer’s time spent at the table did not take away from his usual winter routine. The right-hander ramped up throughout the offseason and showed up to Mets spring training ahead of the others, hurling five innings in his spring debut. He dealt with hamstring tightness in the final week of exhibition games in early April, but he was able to make his first turn through the rotation and avoid missing any time on the IL.
That gutsy and competitive behavior from Scherzer has become the norm for the Mets and their fan base, which is why it was so surprising when he took himself out of the game. In reality, Wednesday night was not the first time he pulled himself out of a start. His ability to self-evaluate, after pitching in the big leagues for 15 years, is something the Mets will rely on as they navigate how to proceed with his left side injury.
“We’ll make the adjustment,” Showalter said. “I’d like to have him. If we don’t, the season keeps going right? It doesn’t wait for us. Ask Jake.”