ATLANTA - If Max Scherzer is going to face the Braves this weekend, he’s going to have to make some significant strides in the next 24 hours. And he’s going to have to convince the Nationals powers that it’s worth putting him on the mound even if he’s potentially not 100 percent healthy.
Scherzer, who hasn’t pitched since July 6 due to a mid-back strain, played catch on flat ground this afternoon for the third straight day. Manager Davey Martinez described that throwing session, from 90 feet, coming “with a little bit more intensity” and said Scherzer told him afterward he “felt good.”
But Scherzer did not throw off the bullpen mound as originally hoped. And unless he’s able to do that standard between-starts exercise Friday, it seems unlikely he would be able to pitch Sunday night’s series finale at SunTrust Park.
“If he feels up to it, we’ll see probably, hopefully tomorrow that he goes out there in the bullpen and does his regular bullpen,” Martinez said prior to tonight’s series opener.
Scherzer had a long conversation with director of athletic training Paul Lessard and executive director of medical services Harvey Sharman after today’s throwing session. He then had a lengthy, closed-door meeting in the manager’s office with Martinez, pitching coach Paul Menhart and general manager Mike Rizzo.
Scherzer hasn’t met with reporters since Saturday in Philadelphia, after the Nationals placed him on the 10-day injured list.
“The biggest thing for me is to make sure he’s 100 percent,” Martinez said. “That’s something we talked about today. I talked with him: He’s got to feel 100 percent before he goes back out there. He feels good. He says he’s close. We’ll just see how he feels tomorrow.”
Scherzer is eligible to come off the IL on Saturday, but it appears his only chance to pitch this weekend would have to come Sunday. The Nationals have announced Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin as their first two starters for this critical series, and Aníbal Sánchez is available to pitch on five days’ rest Saturday night.
If Scherzer can’t go Sunday, rookie Austin Voth would have to make the start. If Scherzer is able to pitch, the Nationals could then choose between Voth or Erick Fedde as their No. 5 starter for Monday’s series opener against the Rockies in Washington.
The dilemma the Nats appear to be facing at this point: Is this weekend’s series against the Braves important enough to warrant putting Scherzer on the mound even if he’s not 100 percent healthy, especially if it might in any way cause any risk to the ace beyond this road trip?
And who ultimately will make this call: The Nationals or Scherzer?
“You know how Max is,” Martinez said. “This is really, really bothering him right now, that he missed a start already. So I’m fighting with the competitive nature of Max. But we need to do what’s best, not only for him but for the organization, too. You have to explain to him: There’s a lot of baseball left, and we need you for the long haul.”