PITTSBURGH - Some news and notes for your reading pleasure while I race to Chicago in time for this afternoon’s series opener at Wrigley Field ...
* If there was nothing else to take away from Max Scherzer’s start Thursday night, it was this simple-but-important message both the right-hander and his manager stressed: They are going to continue to be cautious.
That applied to Thursday’s game, when Davey Martinez pulled his ace after only four innings and 71 pitches. It also applies to the plan moving forward.
The Nationals could try to maximize what they get out of Scherzer the rest of the way and have him pitch every five days, even if that means skipping over other members of the rotation. But they’re not going to do that. At least, not yet.
Martinez said Scherzer’s next start will come Wednesday against the Orioles. With the club off Monday, Scherzer will get an extra day of rest before returning to the mound. And he’s all for it.
“When you look at the schedule here, we got a couple off-days coming up,” he said. “So ... that extra day is going to be really huge right now. I’m eyeing the schedule. It allows me to get some extra shoulder work in between these starts.”
Scherzer, who did rush back from his first trip to the injured list to start July 25 against the Rockies only to suffer a different upper back injury, seems to acknowledge now the need for restraint.
“When I came back for the Colorado start, given where we were at, I thought I could go out there and compete,” he said. “And realized this injury is trickier than anybody thinks. And so, for me, even pitching tonight, I can’t go back and just rear this thing as hard as I can. I got to pitch. I got to be controlled in my delivery and execute pitches, rather than just rearing back and throwing as hard as I can.”
* The Nationals bullpen had to account for five innings Thursday night after Scherzer’s early departure, and that leaves the group in something less than ideal shape heading into a tough weekend series versus the Cubs. But it’s not a terrible situation.
For one thing, Martinez got seven innings from Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday and eight innings from Patrick Corbin on Wednesday. And he was able to spread around the workload during Thursday’s win, with only Hunter Strickland going multiple innings (and thus likely needing today off).
The biggest key might have been the five insurance runs the Nationals lineup tacked on in the eighth and ninth innings. That allowed Martinez to keep Daniel Hudson seated and instead use Javy Guerra to record the final three outs of the 7-1 win. Had it still been close, Hudson likely would have been the closer. Now he’s fresh for today’s game.
* Fun with numbers ...
The Nationals have won nine of their last 11. And both losses came after they blew leads in the eighth or ninth inning.
The Nationals have been ahead or tied in the seventh inning or later in 54 of their last 58 games, including the last 17 in a row. They’re 38-16 in those 54 games, with all 16 losses charged to relievers.
The Nationals have now gone 51-26 since they bottomed out at 19-31 on May 23. That’s a .662 winning percentage over nearly half a season’s worth of games, just a tick behind the Dodgers (.671) for tops in the majors during that lengthy span.