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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