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Sim game could be next step for Nats' Ross; Strasburg throws bullpen

Sim game could be next step for Nats' Ross; Strasburg throws bullpen

In addition to the 42 pitches Joe Ross threw in three innings with Triple-A Syracuse in a rehab outing on Monday, the right-hander then tossed another 20 in a side bullpen session. That got him up to just over 60 pitches, which is not that far off from where the Nats need him to be in order for him to start when he returns off the disabled list.

It's not quite enough, however, for the Nats to declare him ready. His next step will be around 80 pitches and that could come in a simulated game at Nationals Park. With their roster expanded to 35 players, the Nats have plenty of man power at their disposal to recreate a game situation on the field in Washington.

"That's a very good possibility. We'll just have to see," manager Dusty Baker said. "We are down the stretch, so for anyone to do extra work [may be tough]. A lot of them are running on empty."

Even when Ross (right shoulder inflammation) gets to 80 pitches, it may not be enough for him to return as a starter at full bore. Baker discussed the different factors the team may weigh in making that decision.

"We'll see what we need, because if he was a starter then we'd have to probably piggyback him with somebody else. It depends on the importance of the games and where we are. He's very important," Baker said.

Ross, 23, has a 3.49 ERA through 16 starts in the majors this season. He has allowed two earned runs through 5 2/3 innings on his current minor league rehab assignment. 

Ross has been out since July 3 and was transferred to the 60-day disabled list on Sept. 2. He made two initial rehab starts in July before being shut down due to a setback in his recovery.

Speaking of pitchers on the disabled list, Stephen Strasburg (right elbow soreness) threw another bullpen session at Nationals Park on Tuesday. He could return on Wednesday to face the Atlanta Braves, though Baker said he would reveal their starter after Tuesday night's game.

Regardless of when he comes back, Baker will be happy to have Strasburg.

"It would mean a lot to us at this point. He's one of our big three, our main three," Baker said. "He was having a great year and he still has an opportunity to finish a great year... That means we don't have to mix and match."

[RELATED: Scherzer on staying ahead of Nats' division foes, Lobaton on Turner]

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Nationals veterans want to be clear chemistry matter as much as analytics

Nationals veterans want to be clear chemistry matter as much as analytics

WASHINGTON -- Inside the age discussion around Washington’s older team is another percolating topic. Those same members of the 30-plus realm also tend to roll their eyes -- to a degree -- at analytics.

Multiple veterans have pushed back at the influence of statistical analysis on success. They are not discounting it on the whole. They are trying to add emphasis on the human element, the so-called “eye test” and, no matter how it is received elsewhere, express their thoughts about information overload.

Washington's organization remained scout heavy even as it developed its in-house analytics system named “Pentagon”. General manager Mike Rizzo comes from a scouting background. He also spearheaded a push for more depth in the organization’s analytics department, capping those efforts by promoting Mike DeBartolo and Sam Mondry-Cohen to assistant general manager positions before the season began. 

Both were reared in the organization. DeBartolo graduated from Tufts University, then Columbia Business School. He worked at an investment advisory firm prior joining the Nationals as an intern in baseball operations seven years ago. Mondry-Cohen is charged with “the front office’s analysis of baseball data and the development of department-wide baseball systems.” He went to the University of Pennsylvania, and, like DeBartolo, began his work as a baseball operations intern.

Next to Rizzo, they represent balance. Rizzo ascended from assistant college coach to regional scout to director of scouting in Arizona, where a portion of his roster-building technique (starting pitching, plus more starting pitching) was honed. He consistently touts the club’s scouts. 

Davey Martinez was hired to use more information and deploy it. In all, the Nationals have tried to balance the sides while keeping a large emphasis on scouting.

At this point, the distribution and absorption of information is more of a challenge than discovering or creating it. One thing Scherzer pointed out about Juan Soto is his ability to process so much information so quickly. Soto mostly does this via experience, not charts and scouting reports. Another thing Scherzer pointed out at the All-Star Game was his irritation the weight of analytics now possesses in the game.

“Everybody thinks this is just a math game and a numbers game, and you just look at WAR, and you know your team,” Scherzer said. “We can have projections and models -- you name it -- and that’s baseball. That’s not baseball. 

“Baseball’s played by humans. We’re humans. We experience emotions and we’re pretty good about channeling what it takes to compete every single day, but when you get a good clubhouse and you get some good energy, good vibes, it makes it easy for everybody to compete at the same level. I feel like that’s what we have going on. We have very good clubhouse. Everybody’s kind of settled in their roles. We all know how to clown on each other, have fun, when anybody makes a mistake -- my God, I’ve been making a heck of a lot of mistakes lately, everybody is getting a good laugh at -- that’s a sign of a winning club.”

Rendon uses analytics as a key to jokes about his success. When he beat out a grounder after returning from quad and hamstring tightness, he told reporters to “Statcast me.” Asked during the National League Division Series why this became his best statistical year, he sent another zing.

“Launch angle,” Rendon said with a smile. “No. Yeah, I really don't know. I've been getting a lot of those questions lately or at least this season. And I think if I actually knew, if I changed anything or if I knew if I was going to have this type of season, I actually would have done it a long time ago and I wouldn't have waited six or seven years into it. But I think that, man, I say all the time, I think I'm partly, I'm getting lucky.”

The idea of simplicity -- and the human touch -- trickles down to the initial assessments when hunting the next prospect. Johnny DiPuglia, Nationals director, international operations, explained the club’s player-hunt philosophy is less about using technology to assess spin rate and more about finding the best player on the field.

“We don't complicate ourselves with all this analytic stuff that's out now with all this TrackMan (pitching analysis) and all the Blast (swing analysis sensor and software) and all this stuff that is used," DiPuglia said. "We go out in the field, we beat the bushes and we watch games. We try to find the best player on the field, get the checkpoints and if he checkpoints the profile of a big-league position, we evaluate the numbers money-wise and try to sign the kid. We do it to the simplest form here. We don't try to complicate things.

“The game is the same game it was 50 years ago. Unfortunately, now it's a little more complicated and too much information is given.”

The contrast between the Nationals and their likely World Series opponent, Houston, is striking. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is on the box of the Blast “complete hitting solution.” Tomes have been written about Houston’s application of analytics when restructuring and rebooting its organization. Its success indisputably shows the process has worked: The Astros won the World Series in 2017, made it to the ALCS in 2018 and are back there again in 2019. Five years ago, they lost 92 games. Baltimore hired former Houston assistant general manager Mike Elias to repeat the process.

In Washington, the veteran-filled clubhouse casts a wary eye toward analytics. Their process has been simpler. They believe in the karma coming out of their room. Many of them think its value rivals that of deep scouting reports or color-coded charts. Whatever the formula, it was enough to finally breakthrough and reach the World Series.

Chase Hughes contributed to this report.

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Nationals coy about how starting pitching will lineup in World Series

Nationals coy about how starting pitching will lineup in World Series

WASHINGTON -- Mike Rizzo declined to say specifically Friday how the Nationals’ World Series rotation would line up. 

“Davey [Martinez] and I haven’t met officially yet,” Rizzo said. “I don’t think the pitching plans will come as any shock to anybody.”

Washington’s sweep of St. Louis in the National League Championship Series presents options. Everyone is rested. And, they needed it.

Despite the sweep, Stephen Strasburg is second in pitches thrown in the postseason, Max Scherzer fourth, Patrick Corbin sixth and Aníbal Sánchez 11th. Houston’s Justin Verlander is No. 1 following his Friday start in New York. Astros starter Gerrit Cole is third.

“You guys can figure it out,” Martinez said to reporters of the pending rotation. “You’ve been here all year. 

“For me, it’s making sure these guys are ready and healthy. These guys have pitched a lot. I want to make sure -- it’s not just about Game 1, it’s about Games 4, 5, 6, 7. We’ve got to make sure we prepare ourselves for seven games and that we do our due diligence on each one.”

The flat, and most likely, scenario is Washington simply decides to throw Max Scherzer in Game 1 and Stephen Strasburg in Game 2. Scherzer would be back in Game 5, if necessary, on full rest. Strasburg would return for Game 6 on an extra day of rest. They could also flip to give Scherzer the extra day. 

Here’s a wrinkle to consider: throw Aníbal Sánchez in one of the first two games. Why? 

Sánchez has been potent in the postseason. He has a 0.71 ERA in two starts. He’s struck out 14 and allowed five hits. Nothing about his ERA is a fib.

If he starts Game 1 or 2 in Houston, let’s say Game 1 for this what-if exercise, Scherzer is bumped to Games 2 and 6 -- with an extra day of rest. Strasburg opens Game 3 at home, then is in line to pitch Game 7 on the road on regular rest. Otherwise, the Nationals will have to massage the pitching later in the series to put their two best pitchers in the most important game.

Think of the argument this way: if the goal is a road split to start, what are the chances a Sánchez-Scherzer pairing could accomplish that? Based on the postseason so far -- and Sánchez’s 2.57 career postseason ERA -- it’s a reasonable consideration.

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