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Max Scherzer sent to the injured list because of back strain

Max Scherzer sent to the injured list because of back strain

PHILADELPHIA -- Max Scherzer’s back has finally forced a decisive action from the Nationals.

He was placed on the 10-day injured (retroactive to July 10) list after playing catch late afternoon on Saturday in Citizens Bank Park. Scherzer summoned bullpen catcher Octavio Martinez to go to the field with him around 4 p.m. Scherzer returned not long afterward and went to the back, where the workout area is for players in the visiting clubhouse.

Davey Martinez said at 5 p.m. he had not spoken with Scherzer yet about the possibility of throwing a bullpen session Sunday -- something which would be necessary for Scherzer to start Tuesday in Baltimore -- because Scherzer was working out. Not long afterward, the team announced Scherzer would go to the injured list for the third time in his 12-year career. A neck issue put him on the injured list in 2017. He also went to the injured list because of shoulder soreness back in 2009.

The earliest Scherzer can come off the injured list is July 20. He last made a start July 6. If Scherzer is ready to come off the injured list July 20, and start, he would be slated to face the first-place Braves in Atlanta. 

Friday night, Scherzer called his back tightness a minor issue.

“This is not something to be overly concerned about,” Scherzer said postgame Friday. “I know what it takes to toe the rubber. You have to absolutely be able to get through the pitch. I thought I was able to get through the pitch and get through the ball against Kansas City, felt fine, obviously didn't hurt myself though this other little muscle tightened up on me and just hasn't relaxed. I know the feeling of what it's going to take to get back on the mound and get completely though the ball. Like I said, we're only a matter of days. This isn't a long-term injury.”

Scherzer has routinely pitched through minor ailments, both recently and with previous teams, during his career. His top point of pride is to be able to make all hist starts. This trip to the injured list ended his ability to do so this season. Scherzer has made at least 30 starts every year since 2009, a point he noted when pursuing a long-term contract in free agency.  

His recent run through June vaulted Scherzer to the top of National League Cy Young consideration. He also went through a heavy workload to get there. Scherzer led the National League in innings pitched and pitches thrown before the All-Star break. The workload is typical for the soon-to-be 35-year-old starter.

“Everything else on my body feels great,” Scherzer said Friday. “The fact that I was able to go out there and make a start and have something tight and not compromise my shoulder or elbow, that, knock on wood, was what we were really concerned about. So, that's what you're really worried about. The fact some other little muscles in the back tightened up after that start, that's just what happened. So, going forward, I absolutely trust everybody in the medical staff, their opinions, their diagnosis what this and how soon I should be ready to be back on the mound.”

Scherzer said the irritation in his back was coming from his middle group of back muscles holding up his scapula. Key to him was not to compromise his shoulder or elbow in any way when trying to manage the injury. 

Catcher Spencer Kieboom was called up to take his roster spot. He will allow Martinez to use Kurt Suzuki or Yan Gomes more liberally as pinch-hitters Saturday and Sunday in the midst of a quick turnaround. Saturday’s game began at 7:15 p.m. Sunday’s game is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. It’s the shortest turnaround time the schedule can create, and is a result of both games being on national television.

The Nationals now have multiple rotation questions going forward. They were in a place where they didn’t need a fifth starter until the series against Atlanta next weekend. Instead, they need to find a starter for Tuesday in Baltimore.

Anibal Sanchez will pitch Sunday in Philadelphia in Scherzer’s place. Austin Voth is on turn to pitch Tuesday if the Nationals choose to use him. Stephen Strasburg could pitch the second game of the two-game series against Baltimore. If the Nationals wanted to get creative, and if Strasburg was on board, they could push him an extra day in order to have him open a four-game series against first-place Atlanta instead of pitching against woeful Baltimore. However, Strasburg strongly prefers to stay on schedule whenever possible.

In the interim, Washington also has to figure out how to get its ace right.


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Don't underrate the 86 years D.C. waited to return to the World Series

Don't underrate the 86 years D.C. waited to return to the World Series

WASHINGTON -- High atop the scoreboard in right field at Nationals Park are four white pennant flags, three of which read '1924,' '1925' and '1933.' The fourth is blank and for a reason.

Though Nationals Park opened in 2008, that flag represents a wait of 86 years, a wait that ended on Tuesday night as the Nats swept the Cardinals in the NLCS to become the first D.C. baseball team to reach the World Series since 1933. Someday soon a brave soul will make the journey all the way up there, a hundred feet in the air, to replace it with a pennant that says '2019.'

The Nationals still have four wins to go to capture baseball's ultimate prize, but by reaching the World Series they have already given the city of Washington something it has not experienced for the better part of a century.

In order to remember the last time the Nats were in the Fall Classic, you would have to be in your 90s. Surely, there are some Nationals fans out there who can recall those days. But for the vast majority of Washingtonians witnessing this magical postseason run, it is something entirely unfamiliar.

Some Nationals players were shocked simply to hear how long it's been after they ended the drought on Tuesday night.

"That's crazy. It still hasn't totally sunk in yet," reliever Sean Doolittle said. "I'm rarely speechless."

"Welcome back," outfielder Adam Eaton said, speaking to Nats fans. "It's taken a long time."

People from the D.C. area who have been around long enough can speak to how the city has changed; from the turbulent 1960s to the turbulent 1980s, to how neighborhoods like Chinatown have completely transformed, to how the nearby suburbs of Northern Virginia were rural countryside not long ago.

Back in 1933, there was no Jefferson Memorial. Construction started in 1939, the same year World War II began. The White House didn't have an East Wing. That came in 1942.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inauguration was in 1933. He threw out the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series that year when the Senators fell in five games to the New York Giants.

Back then, the Senators played at Griffith Stadium in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington. Nowadays, Howard University Hospital stands in its place.

Eighty six years is long enough that every member of that 1933 Senators team has since passed. The last one to go was utilityman Cecil Travis, who died at the age of 93 back in 2006, 13 years ago.

That 1933 team had Hall of Fame players like Goose Goslin and Sam Rice. It had some Hall of Fame names as well like General Crowder and Heinie Manush.

Back then, baseball was different. Their home run leader, Joe Kuhel, only hit 11 bombs. Meanwhile, their pitching wins leader, Crowder, won 24 games, lost 15 and logged 299 1/3 innings.

Most of us alive today really have no clue what life was like back then. But Nationals owner Ted Lerner does. Tuesday happened to be his 94th birthday and he had a good time celebrating it. Lerner stood on the stage in the middle of the field as his team was presented the NL championship trophy and issued a message to the crowd.

"I want to tell our fans; this is for you," he said.

Lerner knows how long this moment was in the making for Washington, D.C., though a lot of people outside of town may underrate what the city has been through. Many view the Nationals as the franchise that moved from Montreal, the team that has only existed in its current form since 2005. But Washington as a city has waited much longer than 14 years to play in the World Series.

D.C. may have not had a major league team from 1971, when the Senators left to become the Texas Rangers, until 2005, but eighty six years is eighty six years. That's exactly how long the Curse of the Bambino lasted in Boston. The Red Sox broke their World Series-winning drought in 2004, but they had at least been there four times in that span. They also lost in the ALCS another four times. As Nats fans now know, just getting that far is plenty of fun.

Plus, baseball isn't really about the big things, it's about the little things and you don't get those when you don't have a team. You don't get to enjoy Opening Days and walk-off wins and young players developing into stars before your eyes. You don't get hot dogs and cold beers in the sun on a June afternoon.

Washington missed that for decades and they have missed going to the World Series for a lot longer than most of their fans have been alive. As bottles pop around the region, here's to a city that has waited patiently for a very long time to get back to this point.

"This fanbase has been starving for a winner," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "They deserve it."


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TBS crew explains how Nationals can avoid losing momentum with time off

TBS crew explains how Nationals can avoid losing momentum with time off

The Nationals have earned their first-ever World Series berth after sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS. That’s the good news.

The bad news? Only one team in Major League Baseball history to sweep a seven-game League Championship Series has ever gone on to win the World Series.

After the Nationals joined the ranks of teams to sweep their opponents in an LCS, the TBS postgame broadcast crew broke down how to avoid similar pitfalls to previous teams.

Between Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson and Gary Sheffield, there were arguments made for both the benefits of rest and staying sharp. But ultimately, all three emphasized the importance of staying focused.

“You can’t simulate that type of emotion that you go through in an NLCS, nor when the world series starts,” Rollins explained. “You try to use it as rest. Mentally, you’re on. You’re thinking about execution, you’re thinking about who you may face as you’re watching the games, and gameplanning. You have to do something mentally. Physically, you’re body’s naturally going to shut down for a day or two, then you have to get on the field, get on a treadmill, start throwing and get it revved back up...usually this long of a break is the only thing that stops momentum. Hopefully that’s not the case.”

Granderson chimed in, speaking from more experience than most. The outfielder played on two of the previous eight teams to sweep an LCS, twice falling short in the Fall Classic.

“Unfortunately, I got to be on two of those teams that swept the [LCS], went to the World Series, and we couldn’t finally pick up that championship ring,” Granderson lamented. “The one recommendation I would make for a team, and I’m still trying to figure it out because I did it twice and it didn’t work out, try to keep the same schedule. If you had lost tonight, you would have been playing tomorrow. So get the boys back to the ballpark.”

There are still some opportunities to rest, even if a team doesn’t take a full week off.

“I know you want to give everybody some rest, but I think that rest is what we talked about that kind of hurts the hitters,” Martinez continued. “It helps the pitchers, but at the same time if we would have lost, we would have been back on the field, so let’s get on the field, that would have been Game 5, then there would have been a little bit of a break. Let’s take that normal break, let’s get back on the field like there would have been a Game 6, and let’s also watch that other series...all of us couldn’t find that magic key to get themselves ready for the World Series. Maybe get back on the field again tomorrow, and that could help.”

There are plenty of possible explanations. The easy narrative, as the broadcast crew alluded to, is the classic “rest vs. momentum” debate, one of the oldest, most oft-cited in sports. The Nationals, and other LCS-sweepers before them, will have entered the World Series after a long respite, getting them out of their daily routines.

On the other hand, they’ll be fully rested. And they’ll have the luxury of lining up their starting rotation exactly how they’d like it.

The most obvious explanation is a small sample size: the Nationals are only the ninth team in baseball history to sweep an LCS since the league expanded to the seven-game format in 1985. Only one team of the previous eight (Atlanta in 1995) going on to win the title sounds unlikely, but is entirely within the realm of possibility. Even that World Series was close, as all but one game between the Braves and Indians were decided by a single run.

Ultimately, Sheffield sums it up well.

“This goes back to the old saying,” the former World Series champion described. “You can’t turn it off and turn it on. That’s why you’ve always got to stay on.”