Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer exits start vs. San Francisco Giants after 12 pitches

WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner whose remarkably durable arm spurred the Washington Nationals to a 2019 World Series title, exited his start Friday night against the San Francisco Giants after just 12 pitches due to an apparent injury. 

Scherzer, 36, retired the first batter of the game before Nationals manager Dave Martinez and athletic trainer Paul Lessard came to the mound. After consulting with them, Scherzer threw one warm-up pitch and then made a quick left turn to the Nationals dugout. 

His exit has significant ramifications for the Nationals and, perhaps, the landscape of next month's trade deadline. Scherzer is in the final season of a seven-year, $210 million contract, during which he won the 2016 and 2017 National League Cy Young Awards and posted two other top-three finishes. Perhaps most notably, he started Game 7 of the 2019 World Series after he was scratched from Game 5 due to a crippling nerve injury in his neck. 

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer reacts after throwing a pitch in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Nationals Park. (Photo: Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports)

The Nationals won that game and their only Series title in a year Scherzer was twice placed on the injured list due to back ailments. 

But this season, the Nationals are 25-33 entering Friday's game with the Giants. While they are far from out of contention in the surprisingly mediocre National League East, any further fall from contention could spur them to place Scherzer on the trade market, where he'd immediately become the game's most prized commodity.

All of that – the Nationals' contention hopes, Scherzer's trade value followed by his pending free agency – fell into some doubt with one surprising mound exit.

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Scherzer was replaced on the mound by swingman Paolo Espino, who will likely be unavailable for Saturday's doubleheader, the two seven-inning games necessitated by a Thursday rainout. The Nationals had not yet announced a Game 2 starter.

Scherzer's arm has been remarkably durable through a 14-year career that will send him to Cooperstown. 

He has 180 victories and 2,888 strikeouts; he recently passed Jim Bunning for 19th on the all-time list but was publicly ambivalent about the milestone, noting the relative ease with which strikeouts are notched in this era.

He will be 37 next month and has left little doubt he plans to continue pitching into 2022 and beyond. 

Suddenly, 2021 is cast into some doubt. 

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