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Scherzer doubtful for Tuesday's start

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Scherzer doubtful for Tuesday's start

Updated at 5:03 p.m.

MIAMI — The odds of Max Scherzer making his scheduled start Tuesday night in Atlanta look slim after the Nationals ace was unable to throw Sunday morning without feeling discomfort in his right thumb, which he suggested is the byproduct of a sprained ligament.

Scherzer, who jammed the thumb while hitting during his Thursday start in Washington, threw on flat ground in the outfield at Marlins Park on Sunday morning and noted his thumb remained sore, though better than he expected.

Asked if he thinks he'll be able to start Tuesday against the Braves, the right-hander sounded pessimistic.

"I can't say that, because I'm literally day-to-day," he said. "I'm not ready to rule it out completely, but I also have to be honest with myself. Anytime you deal with an injury to your pitching hand, you literally have to be 100 percent to go back out there."

Speaking in the dugout a few minutes after he threw, Scherzer referred at different times to a "sprain" and to "ligaments," suggesting the injury is more severe than mild inflammation. He was adamant throughout that he'll err on the side of caution, not wanting to risk a more serious arm injury while compensating for the thumb ailment.

"I've dealt with an injury before in college where I had a cut on my middle finger, and I went back out there and pitched in pain," he said. "And two weeks later, I had biceps tendinitis and really almost kind of messed up my shoulder. I really respect the fact that you really have to be 100 percent to go back out there. And in this case, that's how I'm going to treat it."

Scherzer has not yet thrown off a bullpen mound, as he normally would between starts, but he said he doesn't necessarily need to do that before pitching in a game again. He does need to be able to throw all his pitches on flat ground with no pain, though, which means he would need to cross that hurdle Monday to have any chance of starting Tuesday.

"It's my pitching hand," he said. "Any type of discomfort's going to alter the way I throw the ball. If I alter the way I throw the ball, I can really run the risk of major injury to my arm. So I really respect that. I really respect that I have to be at 100 percent. That'll be my test: If I can throw all my pitches on flat ground at 100 percent."

Assuming Scherzer doesn't heal in time, the Nationals will have to decide how to proceed, both in the short- and possibly long-term. If they believe Scherzer will be ready in a matter of days, they could try to piece together Tuesday's game with relievers, then insert him back into the rotation.

"We'll probably have to make an adjustment on Tuesday; we don't know exactly who that is yet," manager Matt Williams said following Sunday's loss. "We'll get through tomorrow's game and see where we're at, but there are options for us.

One potential problem with a bullpen game is the fact none of the Nationals' current relievers has been stretched out to throw more than perhaps three innings at a time. Tanner Roark, the obvious rotation replacement candidate, hasn't thrown more than 12 pitches in any of his last three appearances.

If the Nationals choose to call up a starter from Class AAA Syracuse, the most likely option would be right-hander A.J. Cole, who is currently scheduled to start Monday and thus would only need to be pushed back one day. That move, though, would require somebody being removed from the current big-league roster, whether a reliever being demoted or Scherzer being placed on the 15-day DL.

For now, the Nationals don't expect Scherzer to be out that long.

"I don't know if Max is going to make this one," Williams said. "But I would not anticipate at this point — pending further evaluation, further days — that he'd miss a second one. But we'll see."

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low. 

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