Luke Scherzer – Take Two

Written by Jack Fitzpatrick
Broadcasting Intern 

The Injury

“One throw and it popped on me again.”

That could have been the final roadblock that made Luke Scherzer give up his dream of playing in the pros. However, it would take a lot more to get him out of the game.

“I figured go back in there re-construct it, revise it again, get me all taped up and put me back on the field.”

Scherzer will be going into his sixth year at Virginia Tech this fall after missing the 2016 and 2017 season due to Tommy John surgeries.

“I had Tommy John surgery March of 2016,” Scherzer said. “Then my rehab, I guess I re-tore it in February of 2017. So, I had to go back and get surgery again. Then, now a year and a half later, here we are.”

It just so happens that the re-tear in 2017 happened right before his birthday. On February 24, 2017, Scherzer’s 22nd birthday, he went back on the operating table for the second time in less than a year to repair the same elbow.

Tommy John surgery is a procedure that used to be a death sentence to any player, especially a pitcher’s career but now with good rehab and time off, player’s rebound from it well. It involves taking a healthy tendon from an arm or leg and replacing it with the torn one.

Since Scherzer tore it twice his doctor, Timothy Kremchek, who is also the Cincinnati Reds team doctor, decided to do something that is hardly ever done. After Kremchek went in and reconstructed the elbow he took it a step further. He had reinforcements put in to support his elbow as well just to ensure that another Tommy John Surgery would not be needed again.

Scherzer initially tore his ulnar collateral ligament after his sophomore year at Virginia Tech after he lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in appearances. He was one of the team’s best closers and came in during almost every save situation.

Pitching in a lot of big time moments in his college season, then also going up to the Cape Cod league for the summer and getting solid innings up there his arm gave out during a routine throw.

The second tear was during his rehab process. Scherzer felt good throughout the process and because of that pushed himself a little harder than he should have. He then re-tore and went through the process again.

Scherzer came back this past spring in a starting role for the Hokies. His rehab process allowed him time to work on different pitches and get his velocity back to the place it was at his peak pre-injury.

The unorthodox Turks journey

Luke Scherzer may sound like a familiar name, and that’s because it is. This is his second summer with the Harrisonburg Turks. The first stint was after his freshman season in 2014, and now he is back after his fifth-year senior year and will be heading back to Blacksburg with one year of eligibility remaining.

“I love playing ball out here,” Scherzer said. “It is definitely the best place to play in my opinion. I had every reason to come back.”

There are two Luke Scherzers when it comes to his baseball career. There are his pre-surgery days, and now his post-surgery days.

During Scherzer’s pre-surgery days, and his first stint with the Turks way back in 2014, he was in a very different role then he is now.

“I was a reliever and reliever only,” Scherzer said of his first two collegiate years. “My intentions were to throw the ball hard and create a lot of movement and throw a lot of strikes.”

During that stint in his career he was fairly successful. He made history as a freshman and was one of their go-to young arms on the roster. He tied the school record for saves as a freshman at five, and was only the second freshman to lead the team in saves. He grew even more for the Hokies his sophomore year.

“[I] Went back out for my sophomore year and was used in a little bit more roles,” Scherzer said. “So, [I] got a little bit more innings and little bit more appearances.”

He continued his growth during the summer of 2014 down in Harrisonburg between that historic freshman campaign and his sophomore year. He worked with head coach Bob Wease to become more consistent, but all he had to worry about was throwing strikes, and that was something Scherzer could do well.

“Before I got surgery I could go in and pitch every single day,” Scherzer said. “I mean, I could throw it as many times as I wanted to a week before it tore. So now after Tommy John, two surgeries, it’s a little harder to rebound after a day of pitching.”

Since Scherzer needs more time to rebound every time he pitches, he has moved into a starting role. He has developed new pitches and mastered the ones he already had in his arsenal.

Now, in his second stint with the Turks, four years later, Scherzer is locking in and shutting down every opponent he has seen.

“He has just gotten so much better,” Wease said after Scherzer’s second start, and win, versus the Staunton Braves. “He was good when he was here before, but he’s so much better now.”

In his two starts so far this season Scherzer shows no sign of any lingering side effects from the Tommy John surgery. He is 2-0, third on the team in earned run average (ERA) at 1.45 with 12.1 innings pitched and he has a whopping 6:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

“I saw a future minor league ball player, maybe going on to the big leagues,” Wease said after Scherzer threw five innings with six strikeouts and no walks against the Braves on June 18. “His fastball was biting tonight, the curveball was a hammer. I mean everything about him, he had a great changeup. Everything was working for him tonight.”

Scherzer has really been commanding on the mound but this is still a new look for him that takes some getting used to. After moving to the starting role this last year at Tech he only made nine starts and his longest outing was four innings. He was watched carefully with a strict inning and pitch count to make sure his elbow, and arm, could hold up.

“This past year I’ve just gotten into the role of starting,” Scherzer said. “Focusing on getting through a lineup two or three times and being able to change speeds and change looks. I feel like I’m progressing here today.”

His name is one that coach Wease believes will be heard again in the near future on draft day.

What’s next?

The question now is where Scherzer will go in a rotation. He was one of the best closers in the ACC his first two years but is now showing signs of potential in a starting role.

Even when Scherzer was going up against some of the best competition summer league baseball has to offer in the Cape Cod league, he thrived. In the summer of 2015 he was an all-star as a closer which warranted some more attention to the then rising junior’s game.

“He worked out, probably was in the best shape of his life,” Peter Scherzer said about Luke after that summer. “He had a lot of scouts, we were filling out a lot of forms and everybody was talking ‘you’re going to get drafted.’”

Now after a long two-year detour Scherzer heads into his last year of eligibility with his last shot at making a name for himself yet again. He has continued to work on his pitches and add that ever important third pitch to his repertoire.

“The pitch he has really worked, I’ve been asking him if he’s been working on it, he has a little bit, he threw a couple at Staunton was, the changeup.” Peter Scherzer said. “I thought that really helped him in Cape Cod you know, changing the speeds. If he is going to be a starter in my opinion, me and him can argue a lot, but I said ‘you got to have a third pitch.’ … If he can get three pitches I think he would be probably a starter.”

For himself, Scherzer’s main goal is to play pro baseball. However he wouldn’t mind going to Omaha in his last year at Tech.

“These expectations I’ve put on myself in my last year of eligibility is we got to win, I got to, I’m just trying to climb to the top.”

One added bonus to all of this is that Luke has also been pursuing his Master’s degree at Tech in Instructional Technology, and for his dad, that is just as important as making it into the pros.

“If he can get that master’s that’s more important than anything,” Peter Scherzer said. “That can be with you forever.”

It isn’t often that a player can make a name for themself and seem to have a chance of a lifetime right in front of them then have it all come crashing down, not once, but twice, then have to try and build themself up again. For Scherzer though, that is exactly what he has done.

Through all the adversity it would have been easy for Scherer to roll over and give up. Through it all though Scherzer never wavered and it made his passion and dedication to the game that much more.

He is making the most of his second take here in Harrisonburg, and is showing why he didn’t quit. He came back better than he was before and is working tirelessly to make sure he doesn’t fall again. He was once a name that scout’s knew as a closer, but now he is showing the scouts that he has much more than that.