MIAMI -- After one warmup pitch before the second inning, Max Scherzer walked off the mound in the Nats' 7-6 loss to the Marlins on Tuesday night at Marlins Park. He motioned toward the dugout and slashed his throat.
"I'm done," Scherzer told manager Dusty Baker. "I can't go."
A spasm in his neck ended what was looking like a promising night for Scherzer. He tossed a 10-pitch scoreless first inning, then mashed a three-run homer in the top of the second for his first career tater. Scherzer revealed that he took himself out of the game as a precaution after he developed the crick in his neck from sleeping on it oddly a few days prior.
In the days leading up to the start, Scherzer received treatment and the issue subsided. However, it crept back up on him as he began warming up on Tuesday. As he took the mound in the first, he had an issue turning to his left.
"I could tell I wasn't quite right," Scherzer said. "It was hard for me to pick up the target. And then when I went out there in the second inning, I could tell it tightened up even more. And once I felt that, I knew it was time to just pull the chute."
Scherzer did not seem concerned about his neck after the game -- an issue he said he has dealt with before although it usually happens earlier enough in-between starts that it does not become a problem. In fact, Scherzer joked his neck spasm actually aided him at the plate.
"It actually helped on my baseball swing," Scherzer said, still beaming from his first career home run. "I actually couldn't pull my head out. I had to stay locked in, and that gave me a better swing. So sure enough, that's the reason why I hit a home run."
Once a proponent of the designated hitter coming to the National League, the 10-year veteran takes great pride in the strides he has made as a hitter -- almost as much as the enjoyment he receives from trash-talking his teammates and wife.
So Scherzer took time to admire his 381-foot shot, which came on an 0-2 pitch from Marlins rookie left-hander Chris O'Grady. Scherzer initially squared around to bunt before he pulled back and put what he called a "one-in-a-million swing" on the ball. His eyes grew wide and mouth wide open as he discarded the bat and watched the ball sail over the fence. He said it was his first homer since high school.
"This one's sweet," Scherzer said. "It's a loss, but they're not going to hear the end of it. I'll probably have shirts made and everything."
In the dugout following the homer, Scherzer winced and appeared to be in obvious discomfort and would exit the game minutes later. In that moment, Baker worried his ace felt something in his arm. That Scherzer is not dealing with anything more serious allows the Nationals to breathe a sigh of relief. They are already without right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who is on the disabled list with a nerve impingement in his right elbow, and can ill afford a major injury to Scherzer, who has not missed a start since he became a full-time starting pitcher.
"It's just day by day with this thing," Scherzer said. "This isn't an injury where I crashed or did something stupid. This is just, I slept on it wrong. Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you have a crick in your neck. That's what it is."
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.