SAN FRANCISCO - The Nationals wanted to have Max Scherzer face the Braves twice in recent weeks but were unable to send their ace to the mound against the National League East leaders. They wanted to have Scherzer start at least one game during this West Coast trip against either the Diamondbacks or Giants but were unable to get him out there against the pair of fringe wild card contenders.
Now, as a weekend series with the suddenly resurgent Mets looms, the Nationals again would love to have Scherzer on the mound for a start that carries more weight than it looked like it would not long ago. But again, they’ll have to go at it without their best pitcher.
Scherzer’s return from what the club has described as a “mild strain” of the rhomboid muscle in his upper back remains uncertain, the Nationals only saying they won’t let the right-hander pitch again until he’s 100 percent healthy.
He’s not there yet. Though he has played catch on flat ground several times in the last week, Scherzer is not throwing daily at this point. And he still hasn’t attempted to throw off a bullpen mound, a mandatory step for any pitcher before he can make plans to return from injury.
Scherzer, who put together one of the best sustained stretches in team history with a 7-0 record and 0.87 ERA before landing on the injured list the first time with an inflamed bursa sac under his shoulder blade, has now made only one start in the last month. That has to raise the Nationals’ concern level.
“Like we said all along, we’re going to make sure he’s 100 percent when he comes back,” manager Davey Martinez said before today’s series finale against the Giants. “We don’t want this to be an ongoing issue for him. We want to make sure he’s right.”
Definitive updates on Scherzer’s progress have been sporadic of late. He played catch here Monday but took Tuesday off. He departed the clubhouse with a glove on his left hand this morning, and Martinez said “I think he’s going to try to throw a little bit today.” But if that happened, it didn’t happen in public view.
This is the first time Scherzer has spent more than the minimum amount of time on the injured list, and this is the first time he’s had to miss multiple starts because of a physical ailment. It’s unfamiliar territory for the 35-year-old, and it’s clear he’s uncomfortable navigating his way through it.
“It’s frustrating for him, because he’s never been injured,” Martinez said. “So he’s going through something he’s never been through before. And he wants to pitch. He came in yesterday wanting to throw, but it was his day off. So he’s out there today, and we’ll see how he feels today. It’s been slower than he anticipated, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
This much we know: Scherzer won’t be returning to pitch this weekend. The Nationals will send their best three available starters to the mound to face the Mets: Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez. Sánchez, who cruised through six strong innings during Tuesday night’s win over the Giants, will leapfrog Erick Fedde in the rotation order but will pitch on full rest thanks to Thursday’s off-day between series.
“We talked last night after the game,” Martinez said. “He only threw 87 pitches. I talked to him about staying on his five days this time, and he was good with it.”