Scherzer scratched, placed on DL with recurring neck injury

SAN DIEGO - Max Scherzer thought his neck troubles were behind him. Turns out they aren't. And because of it, the Nationals are going to need to ask their bullpen to pitch an entire game tonight. And then someone else to make a start next week.

Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start against the Padres after reporting the same problem that forced him out of his Aug. 1 start in Miami. This time, however, the issue was on the other side of his neck, prompting the Nationals to place Scherzer on the 10-day disabled list with left neck inflammation.

Manager Dusty Baker was informed of the issue about 2 1/2 hours before scheduled first pitch at Petco Park. The Nationals now will have reliever Matt Grace make the start, then piece together the rest of the game with other members of their bullpen.

"We're just taking the cautious route, and then hopefully we'll find out what's causing this to move from one side to the other side," Baker said during his pregame session with reporters, which was pushed back about 15 minutes due to the Scherzer situation. "That's the word right now, and hopefully he'll be out there to make his next start."

Scherzer-Dejected-Gray-Injured-Sidebar.jpgScherzer, who was not made available to reporters, was in the Nationals clubhouse throughout the afternoon, and the casual observer would have assumed all was fine as he prepared for his start. Baker, though, had a hunch there was a problem earlier in the afternoon when he saw his starter arrive at the park.

"I knew something's wrong, cause usually he's not here as early as he was here," Baker said. "On the days he's pitching, he normally shows up a little bit later. But he was here when I got here. That showed me that either he's changed his program, or something's gone wrong."

This late scratch comes 17 days after Scherzer pulled himself from a game in Miami after throwing an errant warmup pitch before the bottom of the second inning. He revealed afterward he had slept awkwardly a few nights earlier and had been dealing with a stiff neck since.

Three days later, after getting treatment from a chiropractor for what he described as feeling like a pinched nerve, Scherzer pronounced himself fine and over the problem.

"Yep, I got snapped, and it's good," he said Aug. 4 in Chicago. "I'm in-line. I'm feeling much better. I can turn. ... Just got a little residual stiffness. But with the medication and everything, this will be gone."

Scherzer proceeded to take the mound Aug. 7 at Nationals Park and held the Marlins to two runs in seven innings, striking out nine. Six days later, he posted a nearly identical pitching line against the Giants, showing no ill effects of the neck injury.

Now the Nationals have to figure out what exactly is going on with Scherzer and what needs to be done to overcome what has suddenly become a larger concern than it had been to date.

"Yeah, concern. But worrying is not going to change it," Baker said. "Once you know a problem, then you have to try to find a solution. If we had a solution, we'd have found it already. But this just came up. Again, we're just trying to find a solution for what's causing it, so it doesn't happen again."

The solution, for now: The Nationals have placed Scherzer on the DL, a transaction that is retroactive to Tuesday. He'll be eligible to return Aug. 25, but the club will need someone else to make a start before then, possibly Thursday in Houston.

In the more immediate future, the Nationals will ask Grace to provide as much as he can in an emergency start tonight. The left-hander has never started a big league game; he threw a career-high 53 pitches over 2 2/3 innings replacing Scherzer in that Aug. 1 game in Miami.

The Nationals will get some rotation help Saturday when Stephen Strasburg comes off the disabled list to make his first start in four weeks, the nerve impingement in his elbow deemed healed by the club. But the team ideally will monitor the right-hander's pitch count in his return to the mound, complicating matters given tonight's bullpen game.

"You're certainly not going to just press him to where he usually is," Baker said. "He'll be on a performance count, see how he looks. Hopefully he doesn't have any long innings. And hopefully he can take us relatively deep into the game without using too many pitchers. Because we still have a game the next day. So this will be back-to-back that we will have to use our bullpen."

Given all that, the Nationals will make a move to bring another pitcher to San Diego before Saturday's game. Prospect Erick Fedde has not pitched since Sunday and would be a logical candidate to return to the big league staff, either to provide insurance from the bullpen or potentially take Scherzer's rotation spot.

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