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Max Scherzer remains in West Palm Beach, continues to work toward the start of the season

Max Scherzer remains in West Palm Beach, continues to work toward the start of the season

Everyone else had stopped. The Nationals were still playing.

Commissioner Rob Manfred decided to shut down spring training, stall the start of the season and formulate a plan for Major League Baseball’s response to the growing coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.

The Nationals were still on the field when baseball slammed on its breaks. Once off of it, they, like all the other players, were mired in a space filled with confusion and wonder. What’s next? What does this mean professionally? What does this mean personally?

“We just didn’t know what was going to happen,” Max Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington. “We were trying to get as much education and trying to learn exactly how this was going to shake down, what that meant, not only for us, but across the world and kind of what the new normal was going to look like. And, what we were going to be able to do and not do at the team complex. It just seemed like every 24 hours, everything was changing and it basically was there for like a 10-day period, and I think everybody was trying to figure out how they wanted to handle the situation with their families.”

Scherzer continued his workouts at the facility until it was closed and converted to a coronavirus testing center late last week. Since, he’s been home in a rental house and maintaining on his own.

He snagged some weights from the clubs’ glass-enclosed gym and resistance bands from the minor-league side of things on his way out. Scherzer works out in the morning. He’s also still throwing. He’s on the mound twice a week, going through 40- to 50-pitch bullpen sessions with a partner.

“What we’re trying to really get to grasp on is how long is this going to last and basically when the startup of the season is going to happen again,” Scherzer said. “As of right now, everybody has kind of circled June 1 though we obviously know that’s not firm. But that kind of looks like the earliest potential kickoff of three weeks of spring training, then the season. In my head, that’s kind of where I am basing everything off of right now.”

Last time the public saw Scherzer, he was sore. Pain in his right lat built up from his throwing sessions. The reason was because he put more stress out there -- purposely -- in order to keep it off his middle back. That was the problem last season when he twice ended up on the injured list. Scherzer is not sore now.

“Literally right after the whole shutdown, that next week when I was playing catch and throwing bullpens, I was feeling really, really good,” Scherzer said. “It’s hard to even say it was an injury. For me, physically, I feel great right now. I’m ready to ramp back up. Really ready to get back after it. Doing everything I can to stay as strong as I can right now so when we get the green light to go, hopefully, I’m off and running.”

Scherzer didn’t watch old games or get a baseball fix on Opening Day. He didn’t want thoughts about being on the field in his head. No “We should be playing…” in any other circumstance. Instead, he just continued to prepare, perhaps the top quality which will put him into Cooperstown when his career ends.

When -- or if -- the season does resume, Scherzer wants to be ready to throw three innings right away. He foresees three weeks of spring training before the new Opening Day. That means four starts for a pitcher. He would be ready for seven innings by the end.

Until then, he’s trying to enjoy family time, stay focused on preparation, and not let his usually busy mind drift too far. Time to talk trash, time to be with his teammates, time to stalk the mound will come again someday.

“You can always look at every situation with a positive or negative kind of light,” Scherzer said. “We were ready to start the season. We were all ready. We were gung-ho ready to start the season. The thing is, life in this world now, we’ve all had to deal with drastic change to our lives and everybody’s trying to do the best they can to cope with it and try to make the best of the situation when we’re in such a dire crisis right now. For me, just trying to find everything I can do to stay ready for when we do get the call to get the season going.”

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Social distancing guidelines would make Nationals’ celebrations look very different in 2020

Social distancing guidelines would make Nationals’ celebrations look very different in 2020

High fives? Nope. Dugout dance parties? Not happening. Group hugs? No chance.

If the 2020 MLB season is played this summer, there are going to be extensive protocols in place that could reportedly limit everything from chewing sunflower seeds to showering after games. The game would look a lot different, and perhaps nothing would change more than how players will celebrate together on the field.

NBC Sports Bay Area talked with Oakland A’s outfielder Robbie Grossman last week about how his team might adapt to the health protocols.

“It’s going to be very hard not to celebrate, shake hands, hug each other, and do all the stuff we’re accustomed to doing,” Grossman said. “But it’s just something that we’re going to have to make an adjustment to. This is the new normal. We’ll get creative and come up with something.”

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The Nationals in particular were a team that relied on a tight-knit clubhouse and prided themselves on staying relaxed and having fun even when their backs were against the wall. Even with the departure of the fun-loving Gerardo Parra last offseason, Washington was expected to employ that same approach during its quest to repeat in 2020.

Instead, the Nationals will have to find other ways strengthen their relationships over the course of the season. With players such as Eric Thames, Aníbal Sánchez, Juan Soto and Victor Robles on the roster, creativity is to be expected.

There are still many hurdles baseball officials must clear before a season can be played. But if the Nationals do return to field, there’s little doubt they would find a way to celebrate together.

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Trea Turner ribs Juan Soto for not hitting a home run as far as him in 2019

Trea Turner ribs Juan Soto for not hitting a home run as far as him in 2019

Juan Soto is just 21 years old and already has his name scattered across the record books.

He’s drawn the most walks ever by a player before turning 21 with 187. He’s the youngest player to put up a .400 on-base percentage in each of his first two seasons. He’s the fourth-youngest to hit a home run in the World Series.

Have we mentioned he’s still only 21?

The hype is only just beginning for the Dominican outfielder, especially since he had the chance to showcase his talents on the national stage last October. So of course, it’s only natural that teammate Trea Turner do what he can to keep his teammate humble.

Even though Soto is considered an up-and-coming slugger and Turner is more known for his speed, the Nationals shortstop has one thing going for him that Soto does not: hitting the Nationals’ longest home run of 2019.

On July 5, Turner hit a 453-foot bomb off Kansas City Royals starter Brad Keller. That just barely beats Soto for his career best, the 449-foot blast he hit off Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the NLDS.

Soto may beat out Turner eventually, but for now the shortstop holds bragging rights over the longest home run hit between the two.

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