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Max Scherzer grinds enough to position Nationals for Game 1 win

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Max Scherzer grinds enough to position Nationals for Game 1 win

HOUSTON -- This is the game within the game this series. Washington’s starting staff versus the Astros’ relentless lineup. Elite command vs. the league’s most patient team. Max Scherzer was first up to deal with Houston.
 
He lasted five innings, threw 112 pitches -- just 65 for strikes -- and made it further than it appeared he would in Game 1 of the World Series. Trailing 2-0 after one inning put Scherzer in a dire situation. His pitch count hit 26 just three outs into the game. It grew to 48 after six outs. At that point, just two innings into the game, Scherzer’s future seemed well-defined. He often worked himself out of such situations during the year. But, against this lineup, in this setting, emerging from deep water would be all the more difficult.
 
“Don’t get caught up in it,” Scherzer said of his mentality after the first. “Stay in the moment. Continue to execute. Just believe in your guys, that they’re going to find ways to get back in the game. We’ve done this the whole postseason. We might get down a little early, but we find a way to grind away and score runs late. I have the utmost belief in everybody in this clubhouse. When everybody gets their number called, they step up and they’re going to do their job. And [Tuesday], that happened.”
 
His advice was applicable for what he tried to complete on the mound. Scherzer leaned on his four-seam fastball and slider (84 of his 111 pitches). Houston relied on its ability to ignore pitches leaving the strike zone. Scherzer’s 112 pitches were a season-high for starts he lasted just five innings. His strike percentage of 58 was the lowest of his four starts this year which lasted five innings. Which pressed a question: Was Scherzer missing his spots or was Houston not chasing his purposeful out-of-the-zone pitches?
 
“That lineup is great,” Scherzer said. “They absolutely grinded me, never let me get in a rhythm. I was having to make pitches out of the stretch from the first inning on. For me, I just stayed with [Kurt Suzuki]. Zuk called some big-time pitches for me tonight.”
 
His changeup was not an effective pitch Tuesday. Scherzer threw 12, producing zero swinging strikes. His slider was the opposite: eight swinging strikes on 32 deliveries, a 25 percent swing-and-miss rate. Potent.
 
Up next for Scherzer is Game 5 at home, if necessary. Houston went through a full first-look Tuesday night. Going forward, the challenge only becomes that much harder since the Astros now have a recent database to work from. Tuesday, Scherzer, and the Nationals, survived the first round.
 
“The way I see it is: I didn’t lose the ballgame,” Scherzer said.

 

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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick to one-year deal

Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick to one-year deal

Washington pulled in another important piece from the 2019 World Series roster.

Howie Kendrick and the Nationals agreed to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2021, pending a physical, on Friday morning, NBC Sports Washington confirmed. Kendrick's deal is reportedly worth $6.25 million.

Bringing Kendrick back retains a leader, elder statesman and quality bat. Kendrick, 36, became one of the key clubhouse voices last season while also delivering a career-best .966 OPS.

He can platoon at first base with Ryan Zimmerman -- should the Nationals and Zimmerman reach an expected deal -- because of his ability to hit right-handed pitching. Last season, Kendrick's OPS was .930 against right-handed pitching (.758 career), which made him more effective against right-handers than left-handed free-agent options like Eric Thames (.877) and Mitch Moreland (.887). Washington could still pivot to a left-handed platoon compliment if it does not reach a deal with Zimmerman.

Salaries at first base will represent significant savings for Washington in 2020. Zimmerman and Matt Adams cost around $21 million in base salary last season. If Zimmerman returns to work with Kendrick, his salary should be in a similar range, dropping the team's commitment at the position by roughly $9 million or more. 

The increasing possibility of the designated hitter coming to the National League in either 2020 or 2021 is also in play here for Kendrick. 

Kendrick's 2019 season was unlikely and filled with rejuvenation. He started the year arguing he was healed from an Achilles tendon rupture in 2018. Once he joined the team after opening the season on the injured list because of hamstring problems, Kendrick took off. Davey Martinez worked not to overplay Kendrick throughout the season in order to have him for the playoffs.

There, Kendrick excelled. His 10th-inning grand slam in Game 5 in Los Angeles will long stand as one of the biggest hits in organization history.
He was named National League Championship Series MVP when Washington swept St. Louis in the next round. His Game 7 homer off the foul pole in Houston was also an enormous moment for the Nationals.

Now, he's back and helps provide clarity. The Nationals know what their catching combination is, have a good idea of what their first base combination is and are set in the outfield. The two big free-agent questions -- third base and a top-tier starting pitcher -- remain.
 

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Scott Boras holds all the cards representing Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg

Scott Boras holds all the cards representing Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg

When Stephen Strasburg opted out of the remaining four years of his contract with the Nationals in November, the team understood it wasn’t going to be the only club bidding for his services.

So when reports broke that the New York Yankees were among the teams meeting with Strasburg, one of the premiere free agents on the market, it likely came as no surprise to the Nationals’ brass in D.C.

But after ESPN reported Thursday that the Yankees have made fellow top free agent starter Gerrit Cole “their clear offseason priority,” the man representing both of them has all the leverage.

On NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast this week, Todd Dybas sat down with fellow beat writers Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post and MLB.com’s Jamal Collier.

When talking about Strasburg’s prospects as a free agent, Dybas pointed to the unique situation the Nationals and Yankees, among other teams, are facing while courting the top two starters of free agency.

“We kind of have a weird dynamic because Scott Boras has the No. 1 pitcher and the No. 1A pitcher,” Dybas said. “It’s not two agents playing off of each other. It’s one guy probably playing his guys against each other going forward and trying to run up both their prices concurrently.”

The Yankees’ interest alone is enough to drive up the expected prices of both Strasburg and Cole. But as Collier notes, New York hasn’t dug too deep into its pockets over the last few seasons.

“The name, the Yankees, still carries so much weight and fear—for people who think they’re going to lose all their best players to the Yankees—but that’s just not the way the team has operated for the last handful of years or so,” Collier said.

However, if the ESPN report rings true and the Yankees do offer Cole a record-setting contract, that would certainly take them out of the running for Strasburg. Yet the high-spending Los Angeles Dodgers are also rumored to be in on Strasburg, meaning the Yankees’ pursuit of Cole likely won’t do much to reduce the price for the Nationals’ free agent.

In fact, Boras could use the fact that Cole’s price is so unaffordable for most teams and try to convince other clubs that Strasburg is a bargain. That could pull more teams into the bidding war and drive up his price.

Dybas believes Strasburg will sign for six years and $200 million, while Dougherty thinks Boras will seek a similar contract to the one another one of his clients received: Max Scherzer and his seven-year, $210 million deal he signed with Washington in 2015.

For their full conversation about both Strasburg and fellow free agent Anthony Rendon, you can listen to the Nationals Talk podcast on Art19, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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