BALTIMORE — Max Scherzer will start Sunday’s first-half finale at Camden Yards, knocking the Nationals’ ace out of Tuesday’s All-Star Game, a decision manager Matt Williams said reflected both his and the right-hander’s priorities.
“It’s a question of him wanting to pitch tomorrow on his normal rest and help us win another game,” Williams said. “We’re here to win games. It’s a great honor for anybody to go pitch in the All-Star Game. But he views it like the most important thing is for him to help us win games.”
Scherzer will still travel to Cincinnati and take part in Monday and Tuesday’s festivities at Great American Ball Park. But he’ll be taken off the NL’s roster, unavailable to pitch and replaced by someone else who doesn’t start Sunday.
The decision had little to do with the All-Star Game itself and more to do with the needs of the club. Scherzer originally was not scheduled to take the mound in this series against the Orioles, but when Stephen Strasburg strained an oblique muscle last weekend, the Nationals’ rotation plans suddenly changed.
Rather than replace Strasburg in the rotation, the Nationals elected to use Thursday’s off-day as a chance to skip that turn and then use everyone else on normal rest. Scherzer, who last pitched Tuesday against the Reds, will be on regular turn for Sunday’s matinee.
“Until Stras got hurt, he wasn’t planned for Sunday,” Williams said. “Sometimes injuries move guys into different spots. But if it was the normal rotation and Stras didn’t get injured, then he wouldn’t have been on tomorrow’s schedule.”
Scherzer, named NL pitcher of the month for both May and June, ranks among the league leaders in most categories, with a 2.12 ERA, 143 strikeouts, only 14 walks and a historic stretch over three starts in which he carried a perfect game into the sixth inning each time and completed a no-hitter against the Pirates.
That resume made Scherzer a strong candidate to start the Midsummer Classic, but he has held that honor before, starting the 2013 game for the AL in New York. He also pitched in last year’s game in Minnesota and earned the win for the AL.
Scherzer’s spot now will replaced on the roster, with Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti left to select another pitcher by Sunday afternoon. Nationals closer Drew Storen would be a logical choice, but Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and Reds ace Johnny Cueto also have been waiting for an opening to potentially be added.
“There’s been a conversation,” Williams said with a laugh. “But it’s not our decision. It’s Bruce’s decision and Rags’ decision on who they want to be as part of their team. We can lobby all we want, but they’ll have til tomorrow afternoon to make the final spots. We’ll see.”
Williams wouldn’t reveal rotation plans for the Nationals’ first series post-break (home against Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the Dodgers) but Scherzer would be on normal rest for Friday’s opener if the club wants to maximize his appearances.
“He’s very important for us, and he will continue to be, even beyond tomorrow,” Williams said. “Looking at the second half, it’s important for us to have him out there as often as we can, keeping in mind that his load has been pretty heavy.”
The 30-year-old leads the NL with 123 1/3 innings pitched and is on pace to throw a career-high 230-plus innings this season. The Nationals are keeping an eye on his workload but have had no reason to be concerned about to this point.
“We’ll take advantage of any off-days that we have in the second half and go from there,” Williams said. “But yeah, we have to understand where he’s at. It’s a little different because there have been more innings, not necessarily more pitches. He’s been really good about limiting his pitch counts. But the innings he has pitched have been not necessarily what he’s used to. That being said, it’s more ups, more times to sit down, more innings that he goes out there and takes the mound. So we’ll monitor. And we talk every time he pitches and into his bullpen about how he’s feeling.”