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Janssen needs more work before he's ready to make Nats debut

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Janssen needs more work before he's ready to make Nats debut

After returning to Washington on Tuesday with hopes of being activated off the disabled list, Nationals reliever Casey Janssen will need just a little more time in the minor leagues before the team brings him up to make his 2015 debut.

The veteran right-hander says he feels good physically after rehabbing from right shoulder tendinitis, but the Nats want him to pitch two more times to sharper a few things before calling him up for the first time this season.

"I feel like I'm pretty ready. No health concerns," he said. "They said they would like me to go out a couple more times. They said they would like my curveball to get a little tighter. They said the reports they got said I'm getting there, but whoever said the reports said he's not there yet."

Matt Williams explained the team's thinking before Tuesday's game against the Nationals:

“For me it’s a normal spring training progression. Generally our back of the bullpen guys, eighth inning guys, closers, get at least seven appearances. More like nine during the course of spring training. The fact that Casey got shut down in spring training, he’s got to progress back to that point. So that’s why we decided to give him a couple more. So he’ll go to Harrisburg tomorrow. Pitch there. And pitch again on Friday, then we’ll get together again.”

Janssen, 33, has already made five rehab appearances in recent weeks. He pitched three times for Double-A Harrisburg and twice for Single-A Potomac. He will now return to Harrisburg to continue his road back.

"[I'm] pretty anxious. It took longer than I expected. Obviously I didn't expect to be hurt, period. So it adds to the frustration of not being with the team and helping, but should come quick. Hopefully, when I do get activated I can keep the momentum that they have built going and fit in," he said.

The Nationals want to see Janssen's repertoire round into form, as the right-hander's velocity has not quite returned to where it was before the injury. Janssen usually sites in the high 80s and low 90s on his fastball and is still a few ticks away from normal.

"I think it was more just my arm speed. My arm speed's there. Velocity is, I think, I've never been a power pitcher. I think the big leagues will help [give me] the extra mile per hour. Whatever that they're worried about if they are worried, [I'll] just finish it up," he said. 

Janssen signed a free agent deal with the Nationals on Feb. 2 after spending his first eight MLB seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. He has a 3.52 ERA in 389 total major league games.

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Mike Rizzo: Max Scherzer's season performance thus far is 'historical'

Mike Rizzo: Max Scherzer's season performance thus far is 'historical'

It's no secret that Max Scherzer has been having the best month of his career. As whispers of a fourth Cy Young begin following his commanding starts this season, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo joined the chorus.

"We're seeing something from a major league pitcher that we’re very fortunate because we get to see this every fifth day and this is historical stuff," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "This is one of the great pitchers of our time and a hall of fame caliber guy and a guy who leaves it on the mound each and every day."

To add to his dominant June, Scherzer allowed only one run and recorded 10 strikeouts over eight innings in the Nationals' 6-1 win over the Miami Marlins Tuesday night.

"He wills himself to win and he wills himself to go the extra inning, the extra pitch," Rizzo said.

Many are calling Scherzer's consistent greatness this month the most dominant time of his career. According to NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas, the only month in his career that comes close to his June 2019 dominance is June 2017, when Scherzer boasted a 0.99 ERA, pitched 36 ⅓ innings, recorded 51 strikeouts, six walks, and a 0.55 WHIP. This June, Scherzer has more strikeouts and a lower ERA.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the league," Rizzo said. "Day in and day out, start in and start out, he gives you an opportunity to win, he gives you his best, he leaves everything on the mound each and every time."

Scherzer has one more start left this month against the Detroit Tigers, the three-day series in Detroit beginning Friday. Until then, Scherzer can rest his arm with two remaining games in the three-game series with the Marlins Wednesday and Thursday at 7:10 p.m.

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Max Scherzer is having the best month of his career

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Max Scherzer is having the best month of his career

Max Scherzer’s black eye receded from the full-circle package to a dark half-moon before he took the mound in Miami. And his memory reminded him of the last time he was there. It was April 20 and produced his worst start of the season: 5 1/3 innings, 11 hits, six earned runs, a loss to drop his record to 1-3 and raise his ERA to 4.34. The latter number has declined in every start since.

Scherzer’s eight innings of one-run ball Tuesday night against the Marlins drove his ERA down to 2.52. His league-leading strikeout total again increased by 10 for the fourth consecutive game. He walked no one. It took just 94 pitches -- 71 strikes -- to reach that point Tuesday in the Nationals' 6-1 win.

Two questions emerged after the outing: Is Scherzer back in the National League Cy Young Award race? Is this the best month of his career?

The first is an easy yes. His 4.2 WAR (according to Fangraphs) coming into the night was by far the best of any pitcher in the major leagues. National League ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu is second in the NL at 3.3. Scherzer leads the National League in innings pitched, strikeouts, starts and strikeouts per nine. He is third in strikeout-to-walk ratio, fourth in WHIP, fourth in OPS against, seventh in batting average against. In a nutshell, Scherzer is again dominating while doing the heavy lifting. He makes every start. He gets into the seventh inning or later 58.9 percent time. He handles all comers.

His June blitz, in particular, has put him back in the Cy Young discussion. Following Tuesday night’s man-handling of Miami, Scherzer has a 0.97 ERA in the month. He’s struck out 54 and walked five. His WHIP is 0.70. Each start has lasted seven innings or more. He’s thrown 70 percent of his 536 pitches for strikes.

Why is he so diabolical? Look at the first three innings Tuesday against the Marlins. A 14-pitch first included some effort and 10 fastballs. Scherzer picked up no swinging strikes on those fastballs, which meant the eager Marlins were getting a good look at the pitch. So, he changed.

In the second inning, Scherzer threw five four-seam fastballs, four sliders/cutters, (Scherzer calls his 90-mph pitch often identified as a “cutter” his “power slider”), three changeups and three curveballs. That mix produced five swinging strikes.

In the third inning, six fastballs, five sliders, one changeup, three swinging strikes.

Which is the complication for the opposition. He will move off whatever is not working and immediately dispatch a fresh bouquet. He can command all of it, throw any of it when he wants, and he’s been obsessing over it for almost a week. Good luck.

An age-35 season is not supposed to be a time of ascension, but, as he is wont to do, Scherzer appears to be running against perceived norms. 

June of 2017 is the only month of his career to challenge June of 2019 for personal supremacy. The numbers that month: 0.99 ERA, 36 ⅓ innings pitched, 51 strikeouts, six walks, a 0.55 WHIP. He made five starts that month. He’s already made five this June, struck out more batters and walked fewer while carrying a lower ERA.

Scherzer has a start remaining this month. It comes against one of his former teams, the Detroit Tigers. No major-league club has scored fewer runs. That mix should further define this as the best month of Scherzer’s Hall-of-Fame bound career and help answer the Cy Young question, too.

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