JUPITER, Fla. (AP) Saying his finger finally feels normal, Nationals ace Max Scherzer proclaimed himself healed following his first Grapefruit League start of the spring, a 6-1 Washington loss to St. Louis.
''It's behind me now,'' Scherzer said Wednesday.
A stress fracture in the knuckle of the ring finger on his pitching hand slowed Scherzer's development this spring and caused him to grip his fastball with the middle three fingers on to instead of the usual index and middle fingers as a means to avoid pain.
Last week, in a minor league game, Scherzer mixed some two-finger fastballs in with the three finger heaters. Against the Cardinals, all fastballs were of the two-finger variety.
''I'm basically on pace to start the regular season on time,'' Scherzer said. ''I really shouldn't miss a turn in the rotation. Considering where I was at coming into spring training, to not have to go to the DL, that's a huge feat.''
The 32-year-old Scherzer will make two more starts before the regular season begins, but the NL Cy Young award winner won't be the Nationals' opening day starter.
''Right now we've kind of got Max slated as the No. 3 starter,'' manager Dusty Baker said. ''He's No. 3 because that's how his turn worked out with giving him more time.''
A two-time opening day starter, Scherzer not getting the ball on opening day isn't a big concern for Scherzer.
''I'm more disappointed that I didn't get a chance to pitch in the (World Baseball Classic),'' he said.
Pitching Wednesday on five days' rest, Scherzer limited the Cardinals to two runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings, throwing 49 of his 73 pitches for strikes. His fastball consistently resided in the 92-94 mph range, though he did hit 95 mph on the ballpark video board's radar gun.
He struck out four while walking one and was able to control all his pitches, something he wasn't able to do in the minor league game last week.
''That was such a joy to see Max throw the ball like that,'' Baker said.
Scherzer allowed his first run in the first inning when Matt Carpenter's sacrifice fly brought home Greg Garcia, who had tripled one batter earlier. He was already out of the game when the second earned run scored. Joe Nathan allowed a single to Dexter Fowler that drove in Kolten Wong, a runner inherited from Scherzer.
''I was fatigued and that's a good thing in spring training when you are pitching through fatigue into those last 10-15 pitches,'' Scherzer said.
Scherzer also had a couple of opportunities to show that the finger injury didn't hurt his defensive play. In the first inning, he lost a foot race with Stephen Piscotty while trying to cover first base, but he wheeled around quickly and fired home to catch Johnny Peralta trying to score from second.
In the following inning he applied the tag to Kolten Wong at third base on a putout scored 2-6-5-6-1. Wong had been in a rundown after being caught off second base.
''That's a great first outing,'' Scherzer said.