Decision day for Nationals and Scherzer

It’s decision day for the Nationals, who must figure out when and where Max Scherzer will next pitch.

If it’s up to Scherzer, the answer to the first question is “Saturday” and the answer to the second question is “at Nationals Park against the Brewers.” But it’s not up to the ace of the staff. Davey Martinez, Mike Rizzo and the club’s medical staff will have the final say on the plan for Scherzer, who believes he’s ready to return from the injured list ASAP.

The Nationals have not announced any rotation plans beyond tonight’s series opener. It’ll be Patrick Corbin against Milwaukee right-hander Adrian Houser. For now, they continue to list both Saturday’s and Sunday’s starters as “TBA.”

Aníbal Sánchez almost certainly will start one of those games. The veteran, who last pitched Monday against the Reds, would be on full rest to start Saturday. At most, the Nationals would give him one extra day of rest and put him on the mound Sunday afternoon.

Scherzer-Fires-White-Side-Sidebar.jpgThe other start, of course, is the intriguing one. Will Scherzer be allowed to return without having made a rehab start in the minors, having only thrown 32 pitches (plus warm-ups) in a simulated game Tuesday?

Or will the organization decide it’s not prudent to throw Scherzer out there so soon, even with a restricted pitch count?

The notion of Scherzer leaving D.C. to go pitch in a minor league game for the first time since 2010 seems hard to fathom. If he’s healthy enough to go, say, four innings and 60 pitches, why waste that against the Richmond Flying Squirrels when he could instead make them count against the Milwaukee Brewers?

But Martinez has insisted all along the organization will not rush Scherzer back, that every decision will be made with his long-term health as the priority. A big league start right now does carry at least some risk.

The Nationals could have Scherzer throw another simulated game, building up his pitch count in a controlled environment that doesn’t involve leaving town. But then they’re delaying his eventual return, and perhaps playing around with their ace’s schedule, which does have to be taken into consideration.

Martinez already said last month, when explaining why Scherzer was coming back from his first IL stint to face the Rockies on a Thursday and not the Dodgers that weekend, that they had mapped out his schedule for the rest of the season and lined him up to face the Braves at every possible opportunity. (Also, the Oct. 1 wild card game.)

So it stands to reason they’re still thinking in those terms now. Which would suggest they’re strongly considering a return Saturday. Why? Because it would put him a five-day schedule that includes starts against the Braves (Sept. 6) and Phillies (Sept. 26) as well as the aforementioned wild card game.

It’s a tricky call. There’s no clearly correct answer here. Scherzer insists he’s good to go. And if he is, don’t you want him pitching in big league games right now, lined up to start some huge games down the road? Or are you committed to the cautious route, willing to sacrifice matchups in exchange for more rehab time?

One way or the other, the Nationals are going to have to make this decision today.

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