PHILADELPHIA -- The Nationals were not always confident Max Scherzer would be ready for this start. A stress fracture in his right ring finger had hindered him through the offseason and led to his withdrawal from the World Baseball Classic. He did not pick up a baseball until the start of Spring Training. The pain in his knuckle forced him to try and throw fastballs with three fingers.
The injury ultimately prevented him from making his third consecutive Opening Day start, but Scherzer still looked at his outing Friday afternoon as a major accomplishment. And he started the 2017 season strong, with a debut that was at times reminiscent of the dominant performances that helped him win the National League Cy Young Award last season. Scherzer retired the first 10 batters he faced, finishing with seven strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball in the Nationals' 7-6 victory, which spoiled the Phillies' home opener at Citizens Bank Park
Scherzer began the game feeling like he could throw about 100 pitches after an abbreviated spring, and he ended up throwing 98 pitches. But he walked the final two batters before he was pulled from the game for left-hander Sammy Solis, a small thing that will eat at the ultra-competitive Scherzer.
"There's a lot of things I can improve upon to sharpen up in my next start," Scherzer said. "But to have that go as well as it did today considering from where I've been in spring to now have fastball command, it's nice."
Scherzer says he is no longer feeling any lingering effects from his finger injury, but manager Dusty Baker acknowledged before the game that he would be watching Scherzer closely. Scherzer was able to command his pitches without any hinderance and spent most of the day looking like his overpowering self on the mound. Baker did point to the end of the outing -- Scherzer is normally able to complete the seventh -- as one reason he was still paying close attention.
"That's what so weird, I was strong actually," Scherzer said about the seventh. "When you pitch in cold weather games, it's hard to use a lot of your reserves, so I was very strong considering that this was my first outing at 100 pitches. I felt great there in the seventh."
And that is an encouraging sign for Scherzer and the Nationals that after a few weeks of uncertainty, Scherzer was very much his usual self on Friday looking as if he never missed a beat.
"He competes," Bryce Harper said. "He competes every single day and gets ready for this every fifth game. ... So [I'm] never worried about him not being ready or anything like that because he's got that mentality to go out there and work hard every single day. It's a lot of fun to play behind a guy like that."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.