Rangers starter Max Scherzer leaves Game 3 due to “back strain”

PHOENIX – After overcoming an injury in September to return this season and after struggling through two subpar starts in the ALCS, Max Scherzer pitched three scoreless innings in Game 3 of the World Series on Monday before falling short Left the mound early in the fourth inning with a grimace due to what the Texas Rangers referred to as “back tightness.”

Scherzer, who pitched in his 30th postseason game and made his fourth World Series start, was acquired from the Rangers at the trade deadline to provide the contending team with a battle-tested starter to bolster its depleted rotation. He posted a 3.20 ERA in eight starts for Texas, but ended the regular season on the injured list due to a serious strain.

After not pitching in a competitive game for more than a month, he returned to the mound for Game 3 of the ALCS and gave up five runs in four innings, giving the Rangers their first loss of the postseason. After that game, Scherzer said that he was feeling good physically and that it was just a matter of improving his performance. He was back to start the deciding Game 7, going 2⅔ innings on 44 pitches and giving up two runs, leading to a blowout at Texas to secure a berth in the World Series.

But leading up to the World Series, a new problem arose: a cut on the thumb of Scherzer’s throwing hand. He threw a bullpen with a Band-Aid and the day before his start he told reporters that he had “found a way to use cotton and super glue in a way that creates a layer so that doesn’t get cut through either.” Sometimes there is in the training room a little tinkering, but you have to do it.”

He admitted he wasn’t quite there yet in terms of his pitch count. “But as far as giving 100 percent performance on the field,” he said, “yes, I can do that.”

On Monday, Scherzer needed just 12 pitches to get through the first inning and just eight more to get through the second inning. He took a 3-0 lead at the end of the third period and defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the last out of the inning was a comebacker up the middle off the bat of Alek Thomas, and it appeared to hit Scherzer on the pitching elbow and back before being fielded.

By the time he came out for the fourth time, Scherzer already appeared to be grimacing as he made his way back to the mound. He threw a warm-up throw and waved to the coach. The broadcast showed general manager Chris Young admitting that his first midseason acquisition needed to end immediately.

The Rangers announced shortly afterward that Scherzer had left the game due to “back strain.” He has struggled with what he calls “neck cramps” in the past — most notably during the 2019 World Series, when they forced him to postpone his final start.

Jon Gray — another regular-season starter who finished the season on the IL and returned to the ALCS roster — came out of the bullpen to take over. Scherzer took the lead 3-0 after 36 throws. If healthy, he would have been available for a possible Game 7 with normal rest. But perhaps more pressing is how the Rangers get there now after having to cover six innings with the bullpen to start the Phoenix leg of this series.

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