WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Max Scherzer is setting sights on pitching Friday at his old stomping ground, but now the Mets have a different injury concern within the rotation.
Taijuan Walker departed his final tuneup for the regular season Tuesday after 1 ¹/₃ innings with soreness in his right knee. Walker, who underwent surgery in January to remove damaged cartilage from the knee, said he still expects to make his first start of the season, Monday in Philadelphia.
The right-hander attributed the soreness to a mechanical adjustment he’s been implementing in his lower half. Against the Nationals, he threw about 40 pitches and allowed six earned runs, including two homers.
“I was just using all arm,” Walker said. “We didn’t want to push it so we just shut it down.”
Walker indicated the shortened spring training, following his surgery and the lockout, hasn’t helped matters.
“I knew I was going to be a little bit behind in spring training and I felt like I caught up a little bit,” Walker said. “Just to have this, I will get an extra day, which will be nice, and we will kind of work through it.”
Manager Buck Showalter said he will wait to see how Walker responds to treatment before deciding if he has to consider other options for that start.
Scherzer, meanwhile, tested his right hamstring in a bullpen session and indicated he plans on taking the ball for his first turn in the rotation, on Friday in Washington.
The Mets are scheduled to open their season Thursday against the Nationals, but Showalter hasn’t yet officially named a starter. Tylor Megill, Trevor Williams and David Peterson are the candidates for the start, according to Showalter. That start originally belonged to Jacob deGrom, but the Mets ace will begin the season on the injured list with a stress reaction on his right scapula. Scherzer was Plan B for the opener, but is receiving an extra day because of the hamstring issue.
Showalter stopped short of officially naming Scherzer as the starter for Friday, saying he wants to see how the pitcher feels the next two days, including during fielding drills.
“We’ll see him making cuts and covering first base,” Showalter said. “We will probably do that Thursday, if weather allows.”
Scherzer was scratched from a Saturday spring training start because of discomfort in the leg. He said he had a “hiccup” in the hamstring while running two days earlier.
Scherzer pitched for the Nationals for 6 ½ years — winning a World Series title with the club in 2019 — before he was traded to the Dodgers last July. He arrived to the Mets on a three-year contract worth $130 million, giving the club five Cy Young awards in the rotation (Scherzer owns three of them, deGrom two).
The fact Scherzer had built up to 90 pitches — in a relief appearance piggybacking deGrom on March 26 — should leave him in position to work deep into his first start, although the Mets could also choose a lower pitch count for precautionary reasons.
Showalter intends to carry 14 pitchers, but could extend that number by one if there is lingering concern about Scherzer that wouldn’t necessitate a stint on the injured list.
Megill would appear to be the favorite to take deGrom’s roster spot based on a solid spring and his contributions last season. Megill, as a rookie, helped keep the Mets’ rotation afloat for 2 ½ months last year before hitting an innings wall down the stretch and finishing 4-6 with a 4.52 ERA in 18 starts.
Williams was acquired from the Cubs at the trade deadline last year and has served as swingman. In his last Grapefruit League outing he extended to three innings, placing him in position for a starting assignment if needed.
Peterson had a strong rookie season in 2020, but was struggling last year when he hit the injured list with a strained oblique. His season ended with surgery to repair a fractured bone in his right foot. If Peterson can rebound, it would give the Mets a left-handed option for the rotation, which is something they lack.