DETROIT — The Tigers appear to have avoided a catastrophe with their most valuable starting pitcher of the second half.
Max Scherzer, who has pitched his way into American League Cy Young Award consideration, left Tuesday’s start against Oakland after two innings with right shoulder fatigue. A subsequent MRI revealed inflammation in his deltoid muscle but no structural damage.
Scherzer said it’s “questionable” whether he will be ready for his scheduled start Sunday against Minnesota, but he didn’t rule it out. His turn is set to come up only twice more after that — Sept. 28 in Minnesota and Oct. 3 in Kansas City, the final game of the regular season.
“I’ve got to take it day by day,” Scherzer said after Detroit’s 12-2 win. “I have inflammation in my deltoid. It’s just a matter of getting it out. I’ll take a couple days off from throwing and reevaluate. It’s possible I do make my next start.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland described the MRI results as “really good news.”
Scherzer, who leads the AL with 224 strikeouts, said his deltoid felt weak in the first inning.
“I was able to finish that first inning, battle through it,” he said. “I wanted to go out for the second. I felt strong to start the inning, but by the end — specifically the (Cliff) Pennington at-bat — that’s when I could feel weakness really starting to come back in. I just didn’t have any more power. With the (Coco) Crisp at-bat in the second, I had nothing in the tank.”
Scherzer’s last fastball in the second inning registered 90 miles per hour — well below his usual velocity. He allowed two hits and one earned run before departing.
Scherzer has been even more reliable than ace Justin Verlander lately, with a 6-0 record and 1.29 ERA over his last seven starts entering Tuesday. The Tigers can ill afford to be without him if they want to catch the Chicago White Sox, who hold a three-game lead in the AL Central with 15 games remaining.
If Scherzer is unable to pitch Sunday, rookie left-hander Drew Smyly — who made 16 starts for Detroit this season — would be the most obvious candidate to replace him.