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Injured Rangers score ahead of schedule in rehabilitation efforts

When Max Scherzer underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back in December, the Rangers announced he would likely be on the shelf until the end of June. A few weeks ago, general manager Chris Young indicated that the team would not place Scherzer on the 60-day injured list because his rehabilitation had progressed enough that there was optimism he could return sometime in late May. That timetable has now been pushed back even further, it seems.

Shawn McFarland of the Dallas Morning News wrote this week that Scherzer will throw 40 pitches against live hitters on Friday – his second session against live hitters this week. McFarland spoke with Scherzer after his first session, in which he faced Ezequiel Duran, Andrew Knizner and Davis Wendzel. The three-time Cy Young winner said he threw all his pitches and “stepped on them” in that first session. In a video piece for FOX SportsKen Rosenthal reports that the Rangers hope Scherzer will be ready as early as early May.

It’s a pretty remarkable recovery and a welcome bit of good news for a Rangers club that opened the year with Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle on the injured list — only to lose left-hander Cody Bradford to an IL stint of his own after a excellent three-start run to start his season. Texas called former No. 2 overall pick Jack Leiter to the big leagues today, but his debut didn’t go as hoped; Leiter was tagged for seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings. The Rangers have also seen veteran left-hander Andrew Heaney yield nine runs in a dozen innings with particularly concerning command issues: seven walks and three hit batters.

The apparent hope among the Rangers brass for much of the offseason was that in-house weapons like Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Dane Dunning and the aforementioned Bradford could help get things in order until veterans deGrom, Scherzer and Mahle returned . Although lefty Jordan Montgomery was hoping to return to the Rangers in free agency, the owner never seemed inclined to hand out a contract that matched the size of his asking price – neither in total length/dollars nor on an annual basis once this became clear. he was amenable to a shorter-term settlement. Texas made a late move to add Michael Lorenzen for a steal of $4.5 million and he recently joined the rotation after building up in Triple-A.

For the time being, the quartet of Eovaldi, Gray, Dunning and Lorenzen seems set in stone. It is not clear whether Leiter will start again or has just been called up for a one-off appearance. Regardless of short-term plans, if Scherzer can indeed return in the first two weeks of May, that could push both Leiter and Heaney out of the rotation mix, barring injuries elsewhere on the staff.

Scherzer, 39, is in the final season of a three-year, $130 million contract originally signed with the Mets. He is owed $43.333 million this season, though the Rangers only picked up $12.5 million of that amount as part of last July’s trade that sent him from Queens to Arlington. While Scherzer wasn’t the clear-cut No. 1 starter he once was, he wasn’t far from vintage form after that deadline switch. In eight starts with the Rangers, he pitched to a 3.20 ERA with a 29.9% strikeout rate and an 8.5% walk rate. However, he also missed the last three weeks of the season due to a major strain. Scherzer struggled in three postseason starts upon his return (seven runs, 11 hits, five walks, seven strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings).