ATLANTA - Austin Voth may not be able to make his start in place of Max Scherzer on Sunday night, but Scherzer’s chances of starting later in the week jumped up significantly after the Nationals ace was able to throw off a bullpen mound today for the first time since he went on the injured list.
Since it became clear Scherzer wouldn’t be ready to return from his back injury in time to face the Braves this weekend, Voth has appeared to be the logical candidate to start Sunday night’s series finale at SunTrust Park. But while throwing his between-starts bullpen session Thursday, the rookie right-hander’s shoulder “was a little tender,” manager Davey Martinez revealed today.
Because of that, the Nationals haven’t fully committed to Voth making this start yet. And so as a precaution they have flown in Joe Ross from Triple-A Fresno to be on standby in case he’s needed to take over.
“Well, now we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Martinez said. “We’ll talk to Voth tonight and we’ll see, go from there.”
Voth, 27, has made four big league starts this year and held the Braves’ potent lineup to two runs while striking out seven over six innings on June 23 at Nationals Park. He pitched six innings of one-run ball Tuesday in Baltimore, and that lined him up to make Sunday’s start in case Scherzer wasn’t ready.
Scherzer indeed isn’t ready, but now Voth may not be, either. And that could throw the Nats into a real bind.
Martinez initially mentioned Erick Fedde as a possible replacement to face the Braves, but the right-hander would have to go on short rest (albeit after throwing only 66 pitches Wednesday night at Camden Yards). But the Nationals also need someone to start Monday against the Rockies, and Fedde seems the logical choice to take the mound on full rest for that opener of a 10-game homestand.
Ross, meanwhile, was already on schedule to start Sunday for Fresno. He arrived in Atlanta on Friday evening, according to a source, though when asked why he was brought in Martinez initially said it was a planned visit with pitching coach Paul Menhart.
“Paul wanted to see him throw,” Martinez said. “They changed his mechanics a little bit, so Paul wanted to put eyes on him.”
Martinez did acknowledge, however, that Ross is “potentially” an option to start instead of Voth.
This is the latest chapter in Ross’ vagabond 2019 season. The 26-year-old has now been called up three times, though he has only pitched out of the bullpen in the majors, struggling to an 11.05 ERA in 17 appearances. In Fresno, Ross has only pitched out of the rotation, posting a 4.28 ERA in eight starts.
Scherzer’s progression to a 15-pitch bullpen session today was a far more encouraging development for the Nationals, who have been waiting two weeks for their ace to be able to get back on a mound.
Out since July 6 with what initially was called a mid-back strain but earlier this week was re-diagnosed as an inflamed bursa sac underneath his right scapula, Scherzer received a cortisone shot Monday and was told he would likely feel the positive effects of it five or six days later. Today was day five, and sure enough the three-time Cy Young Award winner was pain-free while playing catch on flat ground.
That allowed Scherzer to ramp things up and take the bullpen mound at last for a lighter-than-usual session that still proved to be a highly encouraging development.
“He woke up this morning and he said he felt a difference,” Martinez said. “He came in today, stretched, started throwing, threw to 90 feet and really let it go. Then he came back in to 60 feet and felt good and said he wanted to throw off the mound. Threw 15 pitches (in the bullpen) and said he was really good.”
The plan now will have Scherzer take a day off, then attempt to throw a full bullpen session Monday in Washington. If that all goes well, the Nationals could then slot him back into the rotation, potentially as early as Thursday against the Rockies.
The club remains optimistic Scherzer won’t suffer any ill effects from the injury once he returns and won’t need to manage himself any differently over the remainder of the season.
“From my understanding, from what they’re saying, it’s nothing that will limit him in the future,” Martinez said. “It’s just kind of getting it out of there. That’s been the biggest thing. That’s how we had to explain it to Max. Cause Max, he wanted to go. We said let’s make sure this thing is out and that you feel really good.”
Update: The Nationals got into an early hole when the Braves manufactured a first-inning run. But they have come back to life against Mike Soroka. Matt Adams got them going with a solo homer in the fourth. Then they strung together five straight hits in the fifth, started off by Aníbal Sánchez, who beat out an infield single. Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto all delivered RBI hits after that, giving the Nationals a 4-1 lead in the fifth.
Update II: The Nats needed Sánchez to get through the fifth and sixth innings unscathed after giving him the lead. The veteran did not. He loaded the bases in the fifth but was bailed out when Turner made a leaping grab of Nick Markakis’ liner to short and then threw to first to complete the double play. But Sánchez got no help in the sixth. He walked the leadoff man, then served up a two-run homer to Brian McCann that cut the lead to 4-3. In came Wander Suero, and the reliever got out of the inning without any more damage. So the Nats go to the seventh holding a one-run lead. Methinks they’re going to need more than four runs to win this game.