WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The stress fracture in Max Scherzer's right knuckle has healed structurally, but he is still experiencing some symptoms.
As pitchers began throwing bullpen sessions during the Nationals' first Spring Training workout on Thursday, Scherzer was playing catch on flat ground. This week marked the first time he has been able to throw a baseball this offseason, using a modified grip as he eases back into action.
With uncertainty surrounding the injury that has lingered all offseason, Scherzer could not commit to being ready for Opening Day.
"I don't even want to comment on it, because I don't even know what I'm going to be able to do or not," Scherzer said. "It'd be unfair for me to even project or even talk about that. Really, we'll just take it day by day and just see where this finger's at and just keep progressing. Just know that I feel this fracture."
Scherzer has spoken to a few hand specialists, and they agree that the injury is unusual -- they had never heard of a stress fracture in the lower-right ring-finger knuckle. He first developed the injury after an Aug. 25 start against the Orioles, and it was initially diagnosed as a sprain. It did not bother him in-game, so he pitched through it, making his final seven starts of the regular season with a 3.11 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings, as well as two starts in the postseason.
At some point during that time, the sprain transformed into a stress fracture, revealed during an MRI in December. Since the injury wasn't healing, Scherzer was forced to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic at the beginning of January, something he said still disappoints him. He has been able to throw tennis and lacrosse balls, trying to keep his arm in functional shape.
Throwing a baseball remains the hardest challenge.
"Actually, in most of my day-to-day life things, I don't experience any pain," said Scherzer, who won the National League Cy Young Award last season. "It's just throwing a baseball is the one thing that hurts, which is the only thing that I actually don't want to experience pain with."
Until the Nationals have more clarity on Scherzer's situation, they have to plan on him not healing quickly enough to begin the season on time.
"You gotta be prepared for that," manager Dusty Baker said. "If it doesn't happen, then I'm the happiest guy in the world. If it does happen, then you have to start looking at some options. We do have some guys that are chomping at the bit.
"You hate to lose Max for any period of time. But like I said, that's just speculation right now. We don't know. But you certainly have to prepare for that."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.