ATLANTA - The Nationals had high hopes when they arrived in Georgia on Wednesday night, hoping to win at least three of four against the Braves and put some heat on the top spot in the National League East with a couple of dozen games left on the schedule.
Three days and three losses later, the Nats turn to ace Max Scherzer to prevent a series sweep. Scherzer certainly is very familiar with the Braves hitters. This will be his 21st start against Atlanta, and he sports a career 9-7 mark with a 3.76 ERA against them.
But today will have a new wrinkle for Scherzer (9-5, 2.60 ERA). The right-hander has always been a creature of habit, repetition and simulation. When he warms up in his bullpen sessions, he practices in full uniform, even pausing for the national anthem. So with his normal catcher Kurt Suzuki out of the lineup after injuring his arm late Saturday night, Scherzer will throw instead to veteran Yan Gomes.
The Nationals have selected the contract of catcher Tres Barrera from Double-A Harrisburg and he will be the third-string catcher. To make room for Barrera on the 40-man roster, catcher Spencer Kieboom was recalled from Harrisburg to the 60-day injured list with elbow inflammation. Barrera, 24, is a 2016 sixth-round draft pick who played 101 games at Harrisburg this season, hitting .249 with 23 doubles, eight homers and 46 RBIs. Because it is this late in the season, Suzuki will not go to the injured list.
The question is: Will this new battery affect Scherzer’s rhythm and sequencing for today’s matchup against the Braves?
“How many times you play them over the course of the years? Been here now my fifth season, they got a lot of the same faces,” Scherzer said. “I’m well aware what they can do at the plate. They present a lot of challenges. You really got to be on your A game now to go out there and beat them. They’re swinging the bats well and it’s going to take everything I got, (need to) have a good sequence. Look forward to the matchup.”
Scherzer is getting to the Braves at the right time. After three starts since his return from the injured list, he feels now that he has no restrictions or pitch limits.
“I’m feeling well. Now I am in a five-day routine,” Scherzer said. “My normal routine where I can recover in five days. That’s the good news. In that regard, I’m able to get to all my lifts and all my running and feel normal. First time I’ve been able to do that in a while. Looking forward to getting back out there.”
Over his last two starts, Scherzer got to 89 and 90 pitches, respectively. In his first start after his most recent stint on the IL, he was stopped at 71. Now he is confident he will be able to go to at least 100 pitches today.
“Yeah, that’s definitely reasonable,” Scherzer said. “It’s something that I was capable of last start, but you want to be 100 percent sure in terms of ramping up the pitch count. Because I ramped up the intensity last time. Now, OK, it’s full intensity at 100 pitches.”
Scherzer will also have his hands full going against Mike Soroka. The right-hander is also in the top five in the NL in ERA at 2.53 and has an 11-3 record.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ATLANTA BRAVES
Where: SunTrust Park
Gametime: 1:20 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 1500 AM, MLB.com, XM 187 (Nationals version XM 869)
Weather: Sunny, 89 degrees, winds across towards first base at 3 mph
SS Trea Turner
RF Adam Eaton
3B Anthony Rendon
LF Juan Soto
2B Asdrúbal Cabrera
1B Matt Adams
CF Victor Robles
C Yan Gomes
RHP Max Scherzer
CF Ronald Acuña Jr.
2B Ozzie Albies
1B Freddie Freeman
3B Josh Donaldson
RF Matt Joyce
SS Dansby Swanson
C Tyler Flowers
LF Rafael Ortega
RHP Mike Soroka