Scherzer on track for Monday, Strasburg still unclear (Nats lose 7-4)

CHICAGO - As the Nationals cobble together their rotation for the rest of the weekend, they can take solace knowing they should head into next week with the situation much more stable.

Max Scherzer, who hasn't pitched since departing with neck spasms before the second inning Tuesday night in Miami, threw off the bullpen mound at Wrigley Field this morning and is preparing to start Monday against the Marlins in Washington.

Gio González, who officially was placed on the paternity leave list today and is now in D.C. for the birth of his second child, will need to be back on the active roster no later than Tuesday. The left-hander could start that game, or the Nationals could choose to give him another day or two to go through his typical preparation.

A.J. Cole, who remains on the active roster, would be a potential replacement for González if the latter doesn't start Tuesday. Tanner Roark and Edwin Jackson would then be on normal rest for Wednesday and Thursday's games.

stephen-strasburg-red-throwing-2017.jpgThe biggest question will involve Friday night's game against the Giants, and whether or not Stephen Strasburg is ready to return from the disabled list for that start. It's a question the Nationals aren't publicly answering at this point.

The official word from the club on Strasburg is that he is "continuing to progress in his throwing program." The right-hander, who went on the 10-day DL on July 24 with nerve impingement in his elbow, was in the bullpen before Friday's game (presumably to throw off the mound).

The Nationals said from the outset they expected Strasburg to miss only one start. Today, though, is his 13th day on the DL, raising the question whether he would need to make a minor league rehab start before returning to the majors if this process drags on any longer.

"We haven't addressed that, either," manager Dusty Baker said. "You guys are kind of ahead of our information base. I heard he was getting better. ... That's all the news I've got to tell you. I wish I had more."

Update: We're through three innings at Wrigley Field, and for Jackson one of those innings was awful while two of them were great. The right-hander struggled during a four-run bottom of the first, giving up back-to-back doubles to get things started, then later a two-run homer by Alex Avila. A cannon throw from Bryce Harper to Anthony Rendon to nail Willson Contreras at third base helped bail out Jackson some, but the damage was done. On the bright side, Jackson has since retired seven in a row, five via strikeout. So he's at least giving his teammates a chance to rally against John Lackey.

Harper got the Nats on the board in the top of the first with a laser of a home run off the right field video board, his 28th of the season. But that's all they've produced so far, with Harper grounding out with two men on in the thrird to quash a potential rally. Nationals trail 4-1, but there is a long way to go in this one.

Update II: Jackson has settled down, and the Nationals have responded by drawing to within a run. They scored twice off Lackey in the top of the fourth, getting singles from Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy, a sacrifice fly by Rendon and then a big two-out RBI single by Matt Wieters (now batting .308 with runners in scoring position this season). That made it 4-3, and Jackson kept it there with a 1-2-3 bottom of the fourth. He has now retired 10 in a row, six via strikeout, and is through the fourth at 79 pitches.

Update III: Jackson did his part, getting through five innings without allowing anything beyond the four runs that scored in the first. His final line: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 101 pitches. But then Matt Grace entered for the bottom of the sixth, and things quickly disintegrated. Anthony Rizzo singled, then Contreras launched a two-run homer. That made it 6-3 Chicago. And when the inning ending, Wieters was ejected by plate umpire Chad Whitson for arguing as he was walking off the field. You don't see that very often, especially from Wieters.

Update IV: The Cubs tack on an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, scoring off Matt Albers (with an assist from Jose Lobaton, who after replacing Wieters behind the plate was charged with an error on a stolen base attempt). So it's 7-3 and the Nats are down to their final six outs.

Update V: The Nats got one run back in the top of the eighth, but that's all they could get. So they still trail by three runs, and are down to their last three outs.

Rough first inning dooms Nationals in 7-4 loss to ...
Game 108 lineups: Nats at Cubs

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