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Max Scherzer feeling 'a lot better' but next start date is still up in the air

Max Scherzer feeling 'a lot better' but next start date is still up in the air

BALTIMORE -- Some pitching clarity was acquired Tuesday.

Erick Fedde will make a spot start Wednesday in the second, and final, game between the Orioles and Nationals. That bumps Stephen Strasburg to Thursday. Max Scherzer's next start remains a question.

The Nationals decided Strasburg would pitch Thursday once they put Scherzer (mid-back strain) on the 10-day injured list July 13. Moving Strasburg a day allows Washington to dispatch its best arms against first-place Atlanta during a four-game series instead of burning one against Baltimore, the worst team in the major leagues.

Scherzer threw Tuesday in the outfield and "said he felt a lot better," according to Davey Martinez. Next is a check Wednesday morning, then further work. Martinez wants Scherzer to throw a bullpen session before making a start. That could happen Thursday in Atlanta. If Scherzer throws a bullpen session then, he could pitch as early as Saturday, when he is first eligible to come off the injured list. 

Scherzer could also pitch Sunday in Atlanta. The Nationals can easily manipulate the situation once they have Scherzer throw a bullpen session. Patrick Corbin will pitch Friday -- receiving an extra day of rest himself -- then Anibal Sanchez would be on turn Saturday after an extra day of rest. 

If Scherzer is ready to go this weekend, the Nationals could have lucked into a position where they pitch all four of their best pitchers on extra rest against first-place Atlanta.

"It's hard to tell with Max," Martinez said. "Max always feels he's ready to pitch. I just want to see him progress."

One of the issues last weekend in Philadelphia was Scherzer's back problem did not improve from Friday to Saturday, prompting the team to eventually decide an injured list stint was best.

In the interim, Austin Voth, who pitched Tuesday, and Fedde receive cameo appearances. Martinez said in Philadelphia the fifth starter spot is "open" between Voth, Fedde and, more distantly, Joe Ross. 

"[Tuesday] I'm just worried about Austin Voth going out there and competing and keeping us in the ballgame," Martinez said. "Worry about [Wednesday on Wednesday]. Both of those guys are part of our future right now. We hope that they both pitch well."

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Jacob deGrom wins second straight Cy Young, Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin receive votes

Jacob deGrom wins second straight Cy Young, Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin receive votes

It’s Jacob deGrom again.

The New York Mets ace won the National League Cy Young Award on Wednesday night for the second-consecutive season. Los Angeles left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu finished second and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer placed third. Washington starter Stephen Strasburg also finished tied for fifth behind the St. Louis Cardinals' Jack Flaherty while fellow Nats starter Patrick Corbin received one fifth-place vote to put him in at 11th.

1. Jacob deGrom: 29 first-place votes, 1 second-place vote (207 points)

2. Hyun-Jin Ryu: 1 first-place vote, 10 second-place votes, 8 third-place votes, 7 fourth-place votes, 3 fifth-place votes  (88 points)

3. Max Scherzer: 8 second-place votes, 8 third-place votes, 6 fourth-place votes, 4 fifth-place votes (72 points)

4. Jack Flaherty: 5 second-place votes, 11 third-place votes, 6 fourth-place votes, 4 fifth-place votes (69 points)

5. Stephen Strasburg: 6 second-place votes, 1 third-place vote, 9 fourth-place votes, 8 fifth-place votes (53 points)

Wednesday marked the fourth consecutive top-three finish for Scherzer. Scherzer has finished in the top five every year since he signed a seven-year, $210 million deal to come to Washington in 2015. He won the award in 2016 and 2017. He finished second last season.

Scherzer’s back injuries in 2019 limited his chances to win. He went on the injured list twice, limiting him to 27 starts, the lowest in a full season during his 12-year career. Otherwise, his numbers provided a strong argument he should be right alongside deGrom when being considered for the award. He led the league in strikeouts per nine with a dominant 12.7. Scherzer also led the league in FIP -- fielding-independent pitching -- as well as strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Ryu’s candidacy hinged on his control. He put together the league’s best walk rate, ERA and ERA-plus. However, he, like Scherzer, was limited in total production. Ryu made 29 starts and threw 182 ⅔ innings. He started the All-Star Game -- selected by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts -- and went through a second-half fade when deGrom surged.

DeGrom checked all the boxes. His workload was high (32 starts, 202 innings pitched). He led the league in strikeouts. He tied for the lead in WHIP, was fourth in batting average against and first in OPS against at a mere .580. His 1.44 ERA in 92 innings after the All-Star break put him in position to claim the award again.

DeGrom joins Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson (four in a row), Greg Maddux (four in a row) and Sandy Koufax as back-to-back winners of the award since its inception in 1956.

Strasburg led the National League in innings pitched before become the Most Valuable Player in the Nationals’ World Series win. He is a free agent after opting out of the final four years and $100 million on his contract. He’s never finished higher than third in Cy Young Award voting, though 2019 was his second-best year by bWAR. 

Like deGrom, Flaherty used his work after the All-Star break to push into consideration. His 0.91 ERA in 99 innings and 15 starts made him the best National League pitcher from July on. His 4.64 ERA prior to the schedule break held back his overall numbers. Flaherty is just 24 years old and should be back for consideration in the future.

Corbin joined the Nationals last offseason on a six-year, $140 million deal after seven years with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He went 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 202 innings for Washington this season.

The Nationals and Dodgers accounted for six of the 11 pitchers to receive Cy Young votes. Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler also garnered ballot selections, finishing eighth and ninth, respectively.

Matt Weyrich contributed to this report.

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Picking Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young was the only easy decision on my ballot

Picking Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young was the only easy decision on my ballot

The only easy part is at the top. Jacob deGrom was the clear winner of the 2019 National League Cy Young Award. The rest was a tussle.

Good news about voting for this award: It’s more statistics-oriented than MVP (an individual’s definition of “value” can have a big influence there), and is not a nonsense award based on almost nothing, the way Manager of the Year is. 

However, those circumstances don’t make it easy to vote for -- this year in particular. On my ballot, the gap between second and fifth is minute; to the point I would be comfortable with a shuffle in almost any order. But, you have to pick and slot guys in, so here is the ballot:

  1. Jacob deGrom
  2. Max Scherzer
  3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
  4. Jack Flaherty
  5. Stephen Strasburg

Locally, the first thing that will pop is Strasburg’s position relative to Scherzer. So, to reiterate: The gap between second and fifth on my ballot is very slim. I’d prefer extrapolating this with decimal points for a better illustration than two versus five.

In Strasburg’s favor this year: his workload. He led the league in innings pitched and pitches thrown. He also finished second in Baseball-Reference’s measurement of WAR. Where he falls behind is in peripheral categories. Scherzer was better in FIP, WHIP, OBP-against, strikeouts per nine, strikeout-to-walk ratio, adjusted ERA-plus and fWAR (by a wide margin). When Scherzer pitched, he was the more effective pitcher. His strikeouts per nine (12.69) was the highest rate among qualifiers since Randy Johnson (13.41) in 2001. It’s the gap in innings that brings Strasburg into the conversation.

Overall, Scherzer’s position across multiple categories -- leading a handful when deGrom is extracted -- put him second, narrowly, on my ballot.

Ryu’s command was striking. His league-leading 1.18 walks per nine was the best since Bartolo Colon’s 1.11 in 2015. He, like Scherzer, trailed the others on my ballot in innings pitched (183). And, his ERA argument took a hit when FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is introduced to the conversation. He’s fourth there. Though, Ryu comes back in ERA-plus, where he is first. He’s eighth overall in bWAR and fifth in fWAR, undermining his case to a degree and put him behind Scherzer on my ballot.

Flaherty’s post-All-Star break run launched him onto ballots: 0.91 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, .142 batting average against, 124 strikeouts, 23 walks. Dominant. Beforehand? A 4.64 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. In the end, half his starts were so good, he’s competitive for a top-five spot.

Each time I went through, I found arguments for moving all four players to different positions, which, in the end, is mostly moot. The winner is deGrom. Again.

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