Max Scherzer threw 48 pitches over three innings on Wednesday. Stephen Strasburg and Erick Fedde followed Friday with three innings apiece. Patrick Corbin duplicated that feat Saturday afternoon. And today, Aníbal Sánchez topped everybody by totaling 65 pitches over four mostly sparkling innings in an intrasquad game at Nationals Park.
It’s impossible to know how any of that will translate to actual performance once the actual games begin late next week. But for now, the simple fact all members of the Nationals rotation are throwing as much as they are, and feeling healthy after the fact, is the most encouraging development of summer training.
“I’m very encouraged that they’ve followed what we put together for them during the off time,” manager Davey Martinez said. “They all followed it. They all came in rip-raring to go. They came in good shape. And it makes things a lot easier when nobody put on 15-20 lbs. and they were all in good shape. They look good.
Sánchez was the final member of the projected rotation to face live hitters, but the veteran right-hander looked more ready for the season than any of his teammates.
As his warm-up music blared from a speaker stationed by the home dugout, Sánchez did a few dance moves near the mound before actually toeing the rubber and throwing. He faced 14 hitters in total, only two of them successfully reaching base: Trea Turner doubled off the left field wall to open the proceedings, then Eric Thames ripped a laser over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center in the top of the fourth for the afternoon’s lone run.
Some might have presumed the 36-year-old hurler would be held back more than his fellow starters in these early summer workouts, but Sánchez has actually set the bar for the others.
“He wanted to get four (innings) today and did well,” Martinez said, adding: “Obviously, he threw a lot when he was gone. But ever since he got here, he’s been really throwing a lot on the side. He feels good, which is good. We’ll see how he turns around tomorrow. But after the game, he was surprised with how good he felt.”
Still to be determined, of course, is whether these intrasquad games are providing enough preparation for the regular season, which looms only 11 days from now. Each rotation member will start one more game against teammates, targeting four innings apiece. Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin are then lined up to start the only three exhibition games against outside opponents permitted by Major League Baseball: Saturday night against the Phillies, then a home-and-home series with the Orioles next Monday and Tuesday.
Are pitchers able to come out of these intrasquad games feeling like they achieved as much as they would in a normal Grapefruit League exhibition?
“No, but it’s a jump from what we’ve been doing,” Corbin said. “Obviously, things are different for everybody. We’re just trying to make sure we’re ready once the games that count start.”
If everything goes according to plan, these Nationals starters expect to be ready to throw six innings and 90-to-100 pitches next weekend against the Yankees. They’ve still got a long way to go from now until then.
“I’m feeling pretty positive that I’ll be able to get there,” Corbin said.