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Max Scherzer deems himself ready to pitch, the question is when that will be

Max Scherzer deems himself ready to pitch, the question is when that will be

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer stood up and left behind evidence of his state via two circular sweat stains on the dugout bench.

Thanked by a public relations staff member for his time, he said, “Yup,” bounced a baseball off the concrete floor then headed into the clubhouse. On the way past manager Davey Martinez’s office, he flashed a thumbs-up at the manager who is now in for a verbal tussle.

Scherzer played catch Wednesday afternoon in Nationals Park. The simple act confirmed what he thought in the morning: he feels fine and is ready to go. Everyone just needs to come together to decide when.

“Felt good,” Scherzer said. “Was able to go out there and play catch, pretty much at the intensity I thought I was going to be able to play catch at [Wednesday], given that I threw a sim game [Tuesday]. So for me, I want to get in a game now. I'm ready to get in a game. Looking forward to pitching.”

On the list of things Scherzer does not want to do next: throw another bullpen session, throw another simulated game, throw a minor-league rehabilitation start. He threw two simulated innings Tuesday, a bullpen session last weekend, plus added strengthening and catch sessions. His main concern was shoulder mobility. Both the scapula and rhomboid muscle injuries which put him on the 10-day injured list led to distinct stiffness in his back and shoulder after he pitched. Scherzer had no such issue Wednesday morning. 

“I want to pitch in the big leagues,” Scherzer said. “I think I'm ready to pitch in the big leagues.”

That mentality is of no surprise and remains a benefit and demon. Scherzer has always felt in tune with his body, so much so he’s been frustrated with this injury not just because of its longevity, but because he didn’t identify how to manage it sooner. Meanwhile, he sizzled while watching his teammates try to hang onto a wild-card spot.

“Every time I've dealt with something in my career, you're dealing with pain,” Scherzer said. “You're not able to throw the ball at 100 percent. You know you can't take the ball in that situation. I've been able to get to 100 percent both times, before that Kansas City start and that Colorado start. The days leading up to it, I was at 100 percent. I was throwing the ball, completely getting through it. 

“This was kind of an endurance injury, where when I get into a game and get into ... the upper pitch counts, I guess that's when I was injuring myself, because nothing else made sense. I don't second-guess anything about taking the ball or anything like that. Every time in my life I've ever thrown a ball at 100 percent, I always take the mound. I wouldn't have changed anything. It's just now trying to understand what this injury is and what I have to do to train around it and how to pitch around it, as well.”

Davey Martinez shared Scherzer’s positive viewpoint about the last 36 hours. However, he was not as clear when asked about Scherzer’s chances of pitching soon -- and in the major leagues. 

“This … for me, this is almost a different thing,” Martinez said. “Before it was a totally different issue. So now I want to make sure that we’re cautious. He’s gone through all the proper rehab, with everything that they did, him working with Harvey [Sharman], Paul [Lessard], I mean they’ve been really, really checking all the boxes with him right now. We’ll see. He’s very excited this morning. So we’ll see. Like I said, I’m going to sit down with Paul and see where we’re at.”

Scherzer will be limited when he pitches next -- Martinez and Scherzer at least immediately agree about that. He was on a pitch count in his last start, back on July 26, when he threw 86 pitches in five innings. The Nationals don’t want to waste any of Scherzer on a rehabilitation start. He’s a 35-year-old, $210 million, Hall-of-Fame bound pitcher. If he pitches, it will be in the majors. And, Scherzer will be cautious when doing so.

“Any time I don't think I'm at 100 percent, I've always communicated with the coaches of where I'm at,” Scherzer said. “There's times where I am telling them, hey, you need to pull me after 100, there are times I'm telling them when they need to pull me. I don't want you to be confused I don't do that. Because there's times I tell them -- I always say, if I have the ability to tell you no, I have the ability to tell you yes. And, so, for me, it will be just going out there and listening to my body and really paying attention to how deep I can go in the game.”

The Nationals have not named their weekend starters for a crucial three-game series against Milwaukee. Patrick Corbin is scheduled to start Friday. Saturday and Sunday remain open. Aníbal Sánchez would be on turn Saturday. However, that seems a slot for Scherzer after throwing the simulation game Tuesday but no bullpen session before a start. Erick Fedde would be the Sunday option, unless he is bumped by a Scherzer return and Sánchez moving to Sunday. 

“I love the way Fedde and Joe [Ross] are pitching, I really do, but you’re talking about one of the best pitchers in the game,” Martinez said. “If he’s ready, he’ll be out there.”

He says he is. Next is convincing everyone else.

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If Stephen Strasburg were to sign with another NL East team, would he be booed in his return to Nationals Park?

If Stephen Strasburg were to sign with another NL East team, would he be booed in his return to Nationals Park?

As a free agent, Stephen Strasburg is welcome to sign with whomever he wishes. Although the Nationals are currently the favorites to re-sign one of their aces, where Stras will end up is certainly up in the air.

If Stephen Strasburg were to sign with another NL East team this offseason, would he be booed in his return to Nationals Park?

Bryce Harper was booed relentlessly in his return to Nationals Park in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform. Would the same principle apply to other former Nationals?

The Nationals Talk Podcast discussed the sentiment on their latest episode.

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"I think he would be initially cheered and then sort of booed," Todd Dybas said. "Just his general demeanor doesn't prompt the divisiveness that certainly Bryce Harper did and does," Dybas continued.

Dybas also mentioned that information following Strasburg's hypothetical signing with another team would be a big factor in the fans' decision to boo or not to boo, such as when Harper chose the Phillies over the Nationals when the deals were somewhat comparable, to which Chase Hughes agreed.

"The context is just so much different in the sense that Stephen Strasburg just delivered a World Series and was one of the central reasons why," Hughes said. "He should never have to buy a drink in this town again even though he's probably going to end up with like $400 million in his career, in career earnings."

Tim Shovers agreed that Strasburg's hypothetical return would deliver a "mix" of cheers and boos.

Hopefully, this scenario stays hypothetical, and the Nats can re-sign the World Series MVP.

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Daniel Hudson represents a key offseason question for Nationals

Daniel Hudson represents a key offseason question for Nationals

An intact unit from a championship team is typically positive. Bring back the winners. Try it again. Why not?

The Nationals’ bullpen, such as it was by the end of the season, will again be populated by pieces from the league’s worst ensemble in 2019. Closer Sean Doolittle is back -- that’s good. Washington picked up his $6.5 million option. To do so was a simple decision.

Also still on the 40-man roster are Roenis Elías, Hunter Strickland, Javy Guerra, Tanner Rainey and Wander Suero. Quickly, a bullpen foundation emerges. A left-handed specialist remains a need. Another power arm to pitch late is necessary. And, with the latter, is where the question about Daniel Hudson enters. 

Hudson -- along with Howie Kendrick -- represents a core question for the World Series champions: What is repeatable?

There is a discernible need in Hudson’s case. Washington has to find a way to supplement Doolittle with another closer-level reliever. Free agent options are extremely limited.

Hudson, 33, put together the second-best season of his career in 2019. The only other year which personally rivaled his 2.0-WAR output last season came in 2010. He was a very effective starter across 11 games almost a decade ago. 

His careening 2019 path falls right in line with the Nationals’ own stop-and-go trajectory. Hudson was released by the Anaheim Angels on March 22. Three days later, he signed with Toronto. It traded him for right-handed minor-league pitcher Kyle Johnston, who is in Single-A, at the trade deadline. Suddenly, Hudson was en route to the playoffs as a premier part of a revamped bullpen.

He dominated after arriving: a 1.44 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and a crucial bridge during Doolittle's August injury. Hudson finished Game 7 of the World Series with a slider to strike out Michael Brantley. He pulled off his glove -- though he almost forgets the pledge he made with Doolittle to do so -- then hurled it toward the dugout before he began celebrating.

Real life often intervened for Hudson during the season. The birth of his third daughter became a national hot-take topic for a brief time and yet another embraced opportunity for proving stupidity on social media. Hudson went on the paternity list and missed Game 1 of the National League Championship Series because of the birth. A Google search of “Daniel Hudson paternity list” proves how far the story resonated. The top result is from People magazine. 

Hudson, meanwhile also adjusted to an on-field role he didn’t want: being Washington’s full-time, then part-time, closer put him in position to handle the ninth inning. He said late in the season, “I hate closing.” Turns out he was good at it. Hudson arrived with 11 career saves. He picked up 10 more between the regular season and postseason after joining the Nationals. 

He also struck a positive note with Doolittle. 

“I want Huddy back,” Doolittle told NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t know how that’s going to shake out. I know the market for relievers is relatively set, but I want Huddy back.

“I think it works. It was really a unique situation where you had a couple guys at the end of the day, like, we weren’t super-attached to that role or that title (closer), we just wanted to win.”

That’s a repeatable sentiment. But, at what cost? Hudson’s ERA from 2016-2018: 4.61. His ERA with the Nationals was more than three runs lower. Would Washington be paying for recency bias and sentimentality? Or can it find a price point where Hudson’s return would be in line with his likeliness to revert? 

He’s one player. However, he represents a key question and a key spot.

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