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Max Scherzer will not start Game 5 of the World Series because of neck spasms

Max Scherzer will not start Game 5 of the World Series because of neck spasms

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer will not pitch Game 5 of the World Series because of neck spasms, manager Davey Martinez surprisingly said pregame Sunday.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner felt neck tightness and spasms Saturday in his right trapezius muscle. When he woke up Sunday, it became worse -- causing Scherzer to “fall out of bed” to get up -- and prompting him to reach out to trainer Paul Menhart right away and explain he had a problem.

“He was in there with the training staff getting all kinds of treatment,” Martinez said of Scherzer’s actions Saturday. “We did all kinds of stuff. [Sunday], he woke up and right away texted Paul and said that he was really hurting. If you all know Max, obviously he pitched with a broken nose, he’s been hurt before, he’s fought through things. When he comes in and says he’s hurt this bad, he’s hurt.”

Joe Ross will start Game 5 against Houston ace Gerrit Cole. Ross pitched two innings in relief Oct. 25. He was left off the Wild-Card Game, National League Division Series and National League Championship Series rosters, but added to the World Series roster. 

Stephen Strasburg remains the Game 6 starter. Martinez is hopeful Scherzer can heal and pitch in relief in Game 6 in Houston or start Game 7, if necessary. Based on how he looked and what he said, the idea Scherzer is pitching in three days seems remote. 

“I’m as disappointed as I possibly could be in not being able to pitch tonight,” Scherzer said. “It’s Game 5 of the World Series. I’ve pitched through so much sh... crap in my career that it would be easy to pitch through at this point. This is literally impossible to do anything with.” 

Scherzer, 35, said he woke up Sunday completely locked up because of the neck spasms, which are muscular and related to nerve irritation. Scherzer was so rigid in a pregame press conference, he had to turn his shoulders to look right because he could not rotate his head. A Band-Aid covered the back of his neck where he received a Cortisone shot on Sunday morning which, he hopes, has a grand positive influence on his health in the next 48 hours. His wife, Erica, had to help him dress Sunday morning because he could not raise his right arm.

“In the moment I wake up, I couldn’t get out of bed,” Scherzer said. “It really hurt to get out of bed. Just basically fall out of bed, pick myself up with my left arm and tried to move around. Couldn’t even move my arm. I just knew at that point I was in a really bad spot.”

Sunday night will be a scramble. Ross made three September starts and threw no more than 85 pitches in any of them. Washington’s bullpen is rested. Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson have not worked much in the series because it included a day off and two blowouts. They pitched in Game 1 on Oct. 22 but have not pitched since. 

“[Saturday] I didn't use Joe and some of the other guys in preparation in case this would have happened,” Martinez said. “And hoping that he'd wake up [Sunday] and felt a lot better. He didn't.”

Martinez said Scherzer’s onset of neck spasms is not related to his prior back problems this season which caused two separate injured-list stints; Scherzer repeated the that information. Scherzer said Saturday his back problems were fully cleared, making Sunday’s announcement all the more surprising.

“The back issues are fine,” Scherzer said Saturday “All those back issues I have to really address in the offseason of how I'm going to train and everything. So I've been dreaming up different things I might be doing this December and January to really address that.”

Scherzer said Sunday he’s dealt with small neck spasms in the past which were often cleared via chiropractic treatment. On Aug. 1, 2017, Scherzer left the game against Miami after an inning when his neck locked up. Other spasms have occurred.

“This is the most severe one of all-time,” Scherzer said.

Did anything acute happen Saturday to cause Scherzer’s neck issue?

“He said he woke up like that [Saturday],” Martinez said. “And like I said, he spent all day getting treatment. And [Sunday] he just locked up. Just spasm, neck's jacked up. He was just -- he was in a bad place.”

Martinez described Scherzer as distraught, saying he is quiet and irritated with the outcome. Few expressed more joy throughout the Nationals’ postseason run than Scherzer. This is his second chance at winning a World Series title. After Washington beat St. Louis, he walked around by himself at times during the celebration with his fists clenched talking to no one in particular.

He sighed when he walked into the press conference room before taking his seat, looking as if someone put a pole up his back because he sat so straight and rigid. The only reason he plays -- to win the World Series -- had been taken away by an upset nerve and contorted neck muscles.

Sunday, he will be stuck in the dugout, forced to watch Ross and cross his fingers the Nationals can find a way to win. 

“I went around and talked to a bunch of the boys and explained what was going on,” Martinez said. “They were all upbeat. Every one of them said, ‘We got this. We'll pick him up.’ We've got Joe on the mound and we'll get them. And hopefully he comes back and helps us Game 6 or 7.”


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Scott Boras doesn’t buy Mark Lerner can’t afford both Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon

Scott Boras doesn’t buy Mark Lerner can’t afford both Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon

The Nationals have a long and well-documented history of working out deals with agent Scott Boras. Max Scherzer, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Matt Wieters are just a few of his clients who’ve signed with Washington in the past.

But that longstanding relationship may be tested this offseason, with Boras’ prized free agents Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon both on the open market. Principal owner Mark Lerner sat down with NBC Sports Washington on Thursday, admitting that the team doesn’t expect to retain both its former stars.

“We really can only afford to have one of those two guys,” Lerner said. “They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

Boras spoke with The Athletic shortly thereafter and didn’t agree with the notion that Washington was strapped financially.

“The Nationals are experiencing a revenue festival in 2020,” Boras texted Ken Rosenthal on Friday morning. “World Series momentum has blossomed, millions in DC.

“The franchise value has increased by nearly $2 billion since their purchase. The Nationals made an extra $30 million winning the World Series. Attendance will increase by more than four to five hundred thousand. TV ratings and advertising rates all skyrocketed.

“Everyone in DC knows special cherry trees create revenue bloom.”

Rosenthal noted that Boras may have overstated the value of the Nationals’ franchise, as Forbes pegged it at $1.75 billion entering the season. The Lerner family purchased the team from Major League Baseball in 2006 for $450 million.

Nationals President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo spoke with reporters at the premiere of the World Series documentary on Monday, saying both free agents “know where our heart lies.” Rizzo added that while team officials haven’t sat down with either of them so far this winter, “we’ve been meeting for about 10 years.”

Whether Lerner was just using a negotiating tactic to drive the prices down or speaking bluntly on the team’s budget remains to be seen, but the prospects of either player returning to D.C. won’t be nil until they’ve both inked new deals.


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How to watch: Nationals Talk Livestream from the Winter Meetings

How to watch: Nationals Talk Livestream from the Winter Meetings

The Washington Nationals entered the offseason with less pressure than any other team in the majors after winning their first World Series title in franchise history. But that doesn’t mean they have short winter shopping list.

The Nationals lost a slew of contributors to free agency, highlighted by World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg and NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon. They also have holes to fill at first and second base in addition to needing upgrades on the bench and in the bullpen.

At the Winter Meetings, President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo will be in close proximity of every agent and general manager in the sport for four days. NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Travis Thomas and Tim Shovers will be in studio while Nationals Insider Todd Dybas will be live from Winter Meetings in San Diego providing up-to-the-minute news and analysis.

Here’s everything you need to know about the event.

2019 MLB Winter Meetings

Where: San Diego, CA

When: Sunday, Dec. 8 to Thursday, Dec. 12

Live stream: The crew will go live from 1-2 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the MyTeams app and

TV channel: Replays will air Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night at 11 p.m.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Nationals and all your favorite teams easily on your mobile device.