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.”