The Nationals could have started Max Scherzer in Friday night’s second-half opener against the Dodgers, declaring the right-hander their unquestioned ace and workhorse for the rest of the season. Instead, they elected to hold back Scherzer until Sunday’s series finale, a decision manager Matt Williams explained had more to do with long-range planning than instant success.
Scherzer leads the NL with 132 innings pitched and is on pace to throw a career-high 242 innings if he starts every fifth game the rest of the way. He also has tossed three complete games, tripling his career total prior to 2015.
Combine those facts with the fact the Nationals come out of the All-Star break with 30 games scheduled in a 31-day span, and the decision to hold back Scherzer til Sunday became easy.
One, his workload’s been pretty immense as compared to what he’s used to,” Williams said. “Certainly pitch counts are one thing, but ups and innings are different. The fact that he pitched the last game and went into the ninth inning is a factor. One off day in the next 31 days is a factor. So I have to look at it long-term, as we all do, and look at the next 31 days and how much rest he’s going to get, which will be virtually none. This is an opportunity, probably the only opportunity, that we’ll have to give him a couple extra days.”
The decision to hold Scherzer back does have ramifications beyond this weekend. Scherzer now won’t be pitching in next week’s showdown with the Mets, who enter the second half trailing the Nationals by 2 games in the NL East.
New York manager Terry Collins made a point to hold back his three best starters (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard) for next week’s series at Nationals Park, citing the importance of those games against a division rival.
Williams said such considerations were not a factor when the Nationals set their rotation out of the break.
“We have three games against the Dodgers that we want to win,” he said. “And then we’ve got four games against the Pirates [next weekend] after the Mets that we want to win. So if we get to where we want to get to, it’s going to take five guys, not one. I know there’s a lot made of it, and I can have an opinion about it, and everybody else can too. But if we want to get to the postseason and be a contender in that postseason, we’re going to need all five of the guys.
“We’ve got to give some rest at some point. Granted, he’s our ace. But we’re not looking at the opponent necessarily as we are the long-term of the rest of the season.”