Scherzer's return a bright spot in ailing rotation

Scherzer's return a bright spot in ailing rotation

WASHINGTON -- If there was any lingering concern over last week's injury-shortened start, Max Scherzer's effort in the Nationals' 3-2 win over the Marlins on Monday calmed a few nerves.

The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, who left his Aug. 1 outing with neck stiffness, returned six days later to deliver a quality start -- seven innings of two-run ball while striking out nine and walking two on 114 pitches.

"It wasn't bothering me today," said Scherzer, who mentioned he visited a chiropractor a few days before Monday's start. "It was just a little weak. My neck's a little weak. I just have to stay on top of it, just do the football exercises and strengthen my neck up. It's really not a big deal."

Despite Scherzer admitting that he wasn't at full strength, manager Dusty Baker's trust in his ace never wavered. With two outs, a man on first and the game tied at 2 in the seventh inning, Baker kept Scherzer in the game to face Marlins leadoff hitter Dee Gordon.

"We were thinking about taking him out with Gordon," Baker said. "That's why I sent [pitching coach Mike Maddux] out there, but he assured us that he was fine and he had enough to get the hitter out."

The gamble paid off, with Scherzer notching a swinging strikeout to end the threat, and his night.

"That put my mind at ease, but I heard him say on his breaking ball he was still having a little trouble," Baker said. "Anybody who had a little stiffness in their neck knows you're not out of the woods yet until two or three starts maybe down the line."

While Monday's start might not have been as dominant as some of his other outings, the Nats are surely glad he made it through unscathed. Strong starts are especially important for a rotation that has been in flux recently, with Stephen Strasburg's trip to the disabled list and Joe Ross' season-ending Tommy John surgery.

While Scherzer may not be 100 percent until his next few starts, Washington will surely take whatever version of him it can get in the meantime.

"Max is not the type of guy that's going to go out and throw 80 pitches," first baseman Adam Lind said. "He's going to give you his best shot."

Daniel Shiferaw is a contributor to MLB.com based in Washington. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.