Max Scherzer was named to the NL All-Star team Monday evening and will join teammate Bryce Harper next week in Cincinnati as the Nationals’ lone representatives for the Midsummer Classic. For now.
Scherzer, arguably the NL’s best pitcher through the season’s first half, is the logical choice to start next Tuesday night’s game at Great American Ball Park, but he could wind up unavailable to pitch if he starts Sunday’s first-half finale against the Orioles.
Drew Storen, meanwhile, was left off the roster announced by MLB and NL manager Bruce Bochy on Monday, though the Nationals closer could still wind up in Cincinnati as a replacement for an injured or unavailable pitcher (perhaps even Scherzer).
For now, Harper and Scherzer are the only Nationals to make the squad, with Harper voted in by fans as a starting outfielder and Scherzer voted in by fellow players as part of the NL’s pitching staff. Each was selected for the third time in his career.
“It’s awesome,” Scherzer said. “It’s one of the highest honors in the game to be selected to play in an All-Star Game, and this is my third game. Every single one of them means something different, and this one’s very special.”
Scherzer was an All-Star for the AL each of the last two seasons as a member of the Tigers. He started the 2013 game at Citi Field, retiring Brandon Phillips, Carlos Beltran and Joey Votto in order before departing. He pitched a scoreless inning of relief last year at Target Field, striking out both Yasiel Puig and Paul Goldschmidt and ultimately was credited with the win.
It’s possible, though, Scherzer won’t be eligible to pitch for the NL this year. MLB rules prohibit any pitcher who starts on the Sunday before the All-Star Game from appearing in the exhibition two nights later, and Scherzer may wind up starting that day in Baltimore.
With Stephen Strasburg placed on the disabled list this week, the Nationals could elect to keep the rest of their rotation on a 5-day rotation, which would put Scherzer (who starts Tuesday against the Reds) in line to start Sunday against the Orioles. That decision hasn’t been made yet, and manager Matt Williams said it won’t be made until Thursday (an off-day for the club).
“Our process is that we want to win baseball games,” Williams said. “We’ll see how he comes out of tomorrow, and where it’s at and what we can do going forward, given the off-day. There’s a lot of factors there. By the off-day, we’ll have that determination made.”
Scherzer wouldn’t delve into the subject when asked Monday, saying only: “I’ll talk about that when we cross that road.”
Scherzer’s worthiness of the All-Star selection was never in doubt. He ranks second in the NL with a 1.82 ERA, leads the league with 118 2/3 innings pitched, is second with 139 strikeouts, is tied for third with nine wins and just completed a historic stretch in which opposing hitters went 0-for-52 against him.
“Being able to watch Max pitch every five days, it’s a lot of fun,” Harper said. “It’s something that I enjoy. He’s got that mentality out there that you want a guy to have out there. He really gets me locked-in every single day. We have our little conversations about other pitchers and other teams and whatnot. It’s just exciting and fun to watch. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
The Nationals had no other slam-dunk All-Star choices beyond Harper and Scherzer, but Storen made a strong case for himself with a dominant first half. The right-hander currently ranks second in the NL with 25 saves in 27 opportunities (11 of them coming with the Nats leading by only 1 run when he entered), along with a 1.97 ERA and a 37-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“I think Drew’s had a fantastic first half,” Williams said. “He’s leading baseball in 1-run saves. That says something. That says something about his capabilities when he steps in there in the ninth inning. The unfortunate part about the All-Star Game every year is that there are only a certain number of guys that can go. But you never know. There are more games to play before then, and who knows what may happen. I’ll officially say I think he’s had a fantastic first half of the season, and if there’s an opportunity, I’d love to see him go.”
Storen could yet be added as a replacement for an injured pitcher or for a starter who pitches Sunday and becomes ineligible. Infielder Yunel Escobar (.314 batting average, 90 hits) and outfielder Denard Span (.305 batting average, 11-for-11 on stolen base attempts) also are potential replacement candidates off the Nationals’ roster.