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Pitcher Max Scherzer 'probably not' starting for Nationals on opening day

Pitcher Max Scherzer 'probably not' starting for Nationals on opening day

BY TYLER BYRUM, @theTylerByrum

Opening day is less than three weeks away, but the Washington Nationals have already announced that their ace will not be on the mound. 

Prior to today's spring training game against the Mets, manager Dusty Baker responded when asked if ace Max Scherzer was to start on opening day. "At this point, probably not."

Afterwards, Baker would go on to point out that day two, three and four count as well in the Nationals season. 

Earlier in the off-season, it was announced that Scherzer suffered a stress fracture in the knuckle of his throwing hand ring finger back in August. Playing through the discomfort, the 32-year-old ended the 2016 season winning the 2016 National League Cy Young Award.

This injury would go on to prevent the nine-year-veteran from playing in the World Baseball Classic and have him assigned to a handful of minor league starts before Washington officially starts their's.

Last season, Scherzer went 20-7 as a starter and led the NL with 284 strikeouts and a 0.968 WHIP. The Nationals’ ace was also the first pitcher with 20 wins, 250 strikeouts and a sub-.200 BAA (batting average against) since Bob Gibson in 1968, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Stephen Strasburg, would be the next pitcher expected to make the start on opening day. In his first seven years in the majors, Strasburg has battled injuries, year after year.  He missed the final month of 2016 and finished with a 15-4 season due to a strained flexor mass. 

MORE NATIONALS: Bryce Harper looks dominant in spring training

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Nationals partner with chef José Andrés to turn stadium into community kitchen

Nationals partner with chef José Andrés to turn stadium into community kitchen

The Nationals aren’t going to be playing games at their home ballpark anytime soon, so they’ve teamed up with a nonprofit founded by chef José Andrés to cook and distribute thousands of meals across D.C. to help ease the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Eater D.C.

Two kitchens in the ballpark will be used to cook and prepare hot meals that will be distributed by Uber Eats drivers across the community. The first meals will be delivered to the surrounding Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront neighborhoods in addition to the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Fort Dupont.

“We are stewards of this public building — it’s not used to play baseball now, so how can we use it in the best way possible?” said Jonathan Stahl, vice president of experience and hospitality for the Nationals, per the Eater D.C. report.

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After the first 1,000 meals are distributed Tuesday, Nationals Philanthropies (formerly the Dream Foundation) and Andrés’ nonprofit World Central Kitchen hope to get up 5,000 meals distributed per day by the end of the week. The goal is to get that number up into the tens of thousands if possible.

Andrés, a world-renowned chef who owns several restaurants in the District, has led the World Central Kitchen’s efforts to provide meals in the wake of natural disasters since 2010. He threw out the first pitch of World Series Game 5 at Nationals Park after the team invited him to the ballpark to commend him for his humanitarian work both in D.C. and around the world.

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Maximizing games while maximizing safety is MLB’s biggest conundrum

Maximizing games while maximizing safety is MLB’s biggest conundrum

Early Tuesday morning, just after midnight, an ESPN story on a location and timeline for the resumption of baseball caused a stir. The reported proposal: All 30 teams in Arizona, the season starting around late May or early June.

From front to back, the ideas floated were loaded with caveats. They also illustrate baseball’s primary problem as it hunts solutions to become the first major pro sport to resume: it needs to maximize games and revenue while assuring safety. As the first swing showed, it’s not an easy task.

The ideas included playing without crowds at various facilities sprinkled around Phoenix; teams going only from the hotel to the park; the almost comical idea players would sit in the stands six feet apart as opposed to in a dugout; and other far-flung possibilities which seemed to prompt one response: Why bother?

If that’s what’s necessary for a minimal season, why would either side go through with it?

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Major League Baseball followed with a statement Tuesday morning.

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan,” it read in part.

Everyone wants baseball to come back. It's how to bring it back safely in a timely manner that is so difficult to find a path.

Commissioner Rob Manfred stated on the eve of what would have been Opening Day that he expects baseball to be part of the healing process, comparing its resumption to the unity provided post-9/11 when the local nine returned to the field. That ideal is the wind behind a push for resumption.

The calendar is also an enormous factor for a sport based on a 162-game season. Max Scherzer, a member of the union’s eight-person executive subcommittee, told NBC Sports Washington last week he viewed June 1 as a target date to work around. Scherzer stressed nothing was firm. But, he did say the union looked at a possible resumption of spring training in May, then games -- in some form -- in June. That would push the playoffs into November, presumably at a neutral location where weather can be controlled (“Welcome to the Cubs-Yankees 2020 World Series live from Miami…).

Scherzer also said something else to remember: “I think everything’s absolutely on the table of what we want to be able to do to get the most amount of games in.”

Baseball’s core is structured around playing every day. Grinding it out. Hiding injuries in order to be on the field. Sleep deprivation. Never-ending travel. Slow-moving games. Pitch by pitch by pitch. The league is caught between maintaining the integrity of that idea and continuing to follow logical guidelines in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s no perfect plan. And there won’t be. As Scherzer said, everything is on the table, which includes many of the ideas floated on Tuesday. However, the league would need to get the union to agree. The league would need to get local, state and federal authorities to agree. The league would need to be willing to absorb risk -- resumption will never be a zero-sum game no matter how diligent the approach -- when the first pitch is thrown.

So, everyone continues to wait and watch. Human nature is in a tussle with pragmatism. Everyone wants to play as soon as possible -- as soon as it’s safe. But at what risk? At what prospective cost now and later? Those are the unanswerable questions in any plan.

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