Max Scherzer exits start after one inning, continuing rash of injuries to star pitchers

WASHINGTON — As Major League Baseball enjoys a couple days of relative calm in navigating its 60-game season within a pandemic, another unfortunate sidelight to this quickly workshopped season reared its head. 

Yet another unplanned exit by an All-Star pitcher.

Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner, exited his third start of the season Wednesday night after a laborious first inning during which his velocity was down and he labored through 27 pitches. 

Scherzer gave up one run to the New York Mets and was replaced by Erick Fedde to start the second inning. He had thrown a major league high 112 pitches in his most recent start, and was working with an extra two days of rest after the Nationals had their weekend series in Miami postponed after a coronavirus outbreak on the Marlins. 

Scherzer, who turned 36 on July 27, was limited to 27 starts last season thanks to two stints on the injured list with a back injury. Famously, he was scratched from Game 5 of the World Series with a nerve issue in his neck, but after rigorous treatment returned three days later to start Game 7 of the World Series, which the Nationals won. 

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Max Scherzer pitches against the New York Mets in the first inning at Nationals Park. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)

The Nationals did not provide an immediate explanation for Scherzer's injury. But it has continued an unsettling trend this season of star pitchers succumbing to injury after a most unprecedented several months. 

After spring training was shut down March 12 due to COVID-19 concerns, a nearly four-month industry shutdown followed, before teams reconvened July 1 for a three-week "summer camp" leading into the July 23 opening night. 

Scherzer started that night and was defeated by the New York Yankees, but struck out 10 Toronto Blue Jays over 7 1/3 innings — and 112 pitches — in his second start. 

In the meantime, pitchers of all pedigrees have been dropping off rosters, possibly an effect of the shutdown followed by the truncated spring training. 

A forearm strain could lead to Tommy John surgery for reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. His Houston Astros manager, Dusty Baker, says closer Roberto Osuna could be headed that route, too. A back injury put Clayton Kershaw on the IL to start the year. St. Louis Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas won't pitch this season after a forearm strain.

Atlanta Braves ace Mike Soroka is out for the year — and a good portion of 2021, too, after suffering an Achilles' tendon tear Monday. 

And relievers Colin Poche of the Tampa Bay Rays and Tommy Kahnle of the New York Yankees have already undergone Tommy John surgery. 

Scherzer is in the sixth year of a seven-year, $210 million deal with Washington and has been remarkably durable in his career — making between 30 and 34 starts from 2009-2018 before last year's back woes. Even still, he finished third in 2019 Cy Young voting, continuing a streak of seven consecutive years with at least a top five finish.

This shortened season might have been the year he further ceded ace designation to teammate Stephen Strasburg, the 2019 World Series MVP. Alas — Strasburg has yet to pitch this season, himself, working his way back from a nerve problem in his hand.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Gabe Lacques on Twitter @GabeLacques.

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