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Max Scherzer knuckles down, comes up with new fastball grip

Max Scherzer knuckles down, comes up with new fastball grip

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida -- Max Scherzer has come to grips with a finger injury – by coming up with a new, unusual grip for his fastball.

The Washington Nationals ace won the NL Cy Young Award last season despite a stress fracture on his right ring finger in the second half. The problem didn't totally heal during the winter, so Scherzer is trying something different this spring.

"It is strange that I am throwing with three fingers," Scherzer said.

Sure is.

His normal fastball grip – the one used by nearly every pitcher in the pros – employs two fingers on top of the ball with the ring finger bent along the side, providing stability in the hand.

That formation aggravates Scherzer's injury by pressing the ball onto the knuckle. Earlier this spring, he straightened the ring finger, placing it on top of the ball along with his middle and index finger, a grip that alleviates the pressure and pain.

"What else am I going to do?" Scherzer said. "I'm willing to do it. I want to do it. It's just part of what I've got to go out there and do -- to pitch right now."

Scherzer figures that altering his grip affords the knuckle some ability to heal while also allowing him to continue to build up arm strength. It's only the fastball grip that bothers the knuckle.

"If they didn't let me do this then I'd be sitting here trying to test the two-finger grip left and right, and probably be hurting it even more," Scherzer said. "If you let me throw it three fingers, I'm actually healing."

On Tuesday, Scherzer faced live hitters for the first time this spring, throwing a live batting practice session to minor league hitters on one of the complex's back fields prior to the Nationals' game against Boston.

With manager Dusty Baker and general manager Mike Rizzo looking on, Scherzer worked from both the windup and the stretch, simulating two innings of action.

"It felt good to actually get out there and face hitters, have them swing at stuff, going through my routine, warming up in between innings," Scherzer said. "That's all fun."

Scherzer threw 44 pitches during the outing, the majority of which were fastballs.

The Nationals didn't have a radar gun present, but Scherzer said he didn't sense a drop in velocity with the three-fingered grip. He said it seemed to him the ball had the same spin as it normally did with a two-finger grip.

"It looked good to me," new Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said. "It came out of his hand well and had good carry."

Scherzer doesn't know the timeline for his next action and wouldn't commit to the next step, which could be a simulated game or even Grapefruit League action.

"We don't have a target day because we don't know how he's going to come out of this," Baker said. "We'll see how he comes out of this."

The 32-year-old Scherzer went 20-7 last season with a 2.96 ERA and a major league-leading 284 strikeouts. He also won the 2013 AL Cy Young with Detroit.

MORE NATIONALS: Report: Nationals sign John Lannan to minor league deal

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Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

HOUSTON -- Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer, Howie Kendrick had a two-run triple and the Washington Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time, 4-3 Tuesday night in a matchup of division leaders.

Washington's winning streak over the Astros dates to 2012. The Nationals have won 13 of 14 against Houston since 2011.

Kendrick's triple tied it in the third before the Astros went back on top with an RBI single by Josh Reddick in the bottom half. Anthony Rendon doubled with two outs in the fourth before the homer by Wieters, which landed just to the right of straightaway center field, gave the NL East leaders a 4-3 lead.

Tanner Roark (10-8) allowed six hits and two earned runs in 5 2-3 innings and Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Charlie Morton (10-6) gave up four runs in six innings for the AL West-leading Astros.

The Astros threatened in the eighth against Brandon Kintzler when Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles and the Nationals intentionally walked Carlos Beltran with one out to load the bases. But Max Stassi grounded into a double play to leave Houston trailing.

George Springer led off the Houston first with a single, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Reddick.

Beltran doubled off the wall in left-center field in the second and scored on a single by Derek Fisher.

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Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

When Max Scherzer was a teenager, he didn't know that one day he'd actually become a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He had no guarantee he'd make it to the majors, much less play in five consecutive MLB All-Star games. 

All he knew was that he had the option to go pro as a kid or go to college, and back then, the Nationals' ace needed a contingency plan in case baseball didn't work out. Fortunately for Scherzer, it did, but he doesn't regret going to college at the University of Missouri, telling Santana Moss on CSN's "Route 89" going to school was a no-brainer.

"It was actually a really easy decision," Scherzer told Moss. "When you get drafted out of high school, you're going to be going into the minor leagues, and that can take three to five or six years — multiple years — in the minor leagues, and you're forfeiting your right to further your education."

Scherzer was drafted in the 43rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, but he opted to play for Mizzou for three years, which turned out to be a great decision. The Arizona Diamondbacks then drafted him in 2006 in the first round as the 11th overall pick. 

"A lot of times when you sign out of high school, you don't make it to the major leagues," Scherzer continued. "So I realize that your education — that's your safety net.

"You need to further your education in college, and if you do get drafted out of college, you're in a much better position to try to chase your dreams because if it doesn't work out, you still have one year left of school and that's much easier to obtain rather than try to go through four years when you're not coming out of high school."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound