World Series 2023: Rangers starter Max Scherzer leaves Game 3 due to ‘back tightness’

PHOENIX – After fighting through a September injury to return this season, and after battling through two subpar starts in the ALCS, Max Scherzer threw three scoreless innings Monday in Game 3 of the World Series before leaving the mound just before the fourth got underway while grimacing due to what the Texas Rangers announced as “back tightness.”

Scherzer, who was pitching in his 30th postseason game and making his fourth career World Series start, was acquired by the Rangers at the trade deadline to give the contending team a battle-tested starter to bolster their depleted rotation. He posted a 3.20 ERA in eight starts for Texas but finished the regular season on the injured list due to a teres major strain.

After more than a month without pitching in a competitive game, he returned to the mound for Game 3 of the ALCS, surrendering five runs in four innings in what turned into the Rangers’ first loss of the postseason. After that game, Scherzer said that physically he felt fine, and it was simply a matter of executing better. He was back to start the decisive Game 7, grinding through 2⅔ innings on 44 pitches and giving up two runs in what turned into a Texas blowout to secure a trip to the World Series.

But ahead of the World Series, a new issue emerged: a cut on the thumb of Scherzer’s pitching hand. He threw a bullpen with a bandaid, 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 provides a layer for that not to get cut as well. A little arts and crafts in the training room at times, but that’s what you’ve got to do.”

He admitted that he wasn’t fully built back up in terms of his pitch count. “But in terms of throwing 100 percent effort on a pitch,” he said, “yeah, I can do that.”

On Monday, it took Scherzer just 12 pitches to get through the first inning, just eight more to get through the second. He went out for the bottom of the third with a 3-0 lead and shut down 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 in the pitching elbow and his back before being fielded.

When he came back out for the fourth, Scherzer appeared to already be grimacing as he made his way back to the mound. He threw a warm-up pitch and motioned for the trainer. The broadcast showed general manager Chris Young acknowledging that his premier midseason acquisition would need to exit immediately.

The Rangers announced shortly thereafter that Scherzer had exited the game due to “back tightness.” He has dealt in the past with what have been deemed “neck spasms” — most notably during the 2019 World Series, when they forced him to push back his final start.

Jon Gray — another regular-season starter who ended the season on the IL and returned to the roster in the ALCS — came out of the bullpen to take over. Scherzer left with a 3-0 lead after 36 pitches. If healthy, he would’ve been available on normal rest for a possible Game 7. But more pressing, perhaps, is how the Rangers will get there now, after needing to cover six innings with the bullpen at the outset of the Phoenix leg of this series.

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