Scherzer’s brief IL stint leaves Nats needing Wednesday starter

In the end, the Nationals didn’t want to take a chance putting Max Scherzer on the mound this weekend without knowing for certain if his groin would hold up. So even though the three-time Cy Young Award winner is confident he’ll be ready to pitch again in a matter of “days, not weeks,” the club decided to go ahead and place him on the 10-day injured list this afternoon.

“After going through the process, I just want to be more cautious than not,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “And this is an injury that, right now, it’s getting better. So we want it to completely get better. It’s something that we don’t want him to re-injure (by trying) to force him to try to pitch.”

Scherzer, who had to depart Friday night’s start against the Giants after only 12 pitches, spent the last three days getting treatment and attempting various physical activities to test his groin. He felt strong enough to attempt a bullpen session Monday, but cut it short when he realized he couldn’t drive off his back leg as much as he needs to in a game.

That ensured Scherzer wouldn’t be able to make his scheduled start Wednesday against the Pirates, but there was still some thought he could avoid the IL and perhaps pitch this weekend against the Mets. The decision needed to be made today, though, because IL moves may only be backdated three days.

By making the transaction today, the Nationals backdated it to Saturday, which makes Scherzer eligible to return June 22 when they open a two-game series in Philadelphia.

“So we’ll give him a few extra days,” Martinez said, “and hopefully it won’t take long for him to come back, and he’ll just miss a start.”

Scherzer should be able to continue to play catch and exercise in the meantime, keeping his arm ready to re-take the mound when he’s able to do so. If all goes well, the IL stint would be short enough that he won’t need to face hitters in a simulated game or minor league rehab start.

“He can still, I think, stretch his arm out without going 100 percent, just to keep his arm fresh,” Martinez said. “He’ll do some maintenance stuff to keep it right. He feels good now, but once he gets in the game, as you know how competitive he is, he’s maxed out. We want to make sure that when he does get in the game, it’s something that he doesn’t have to think about and that he can just be Max Scherzer and go out there and pitch like he is capable of pitching.”

Espino-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgIn the meantime, the Nationals need to decide who will start Wednesday in Scherzer’s place. Paolo Espino, who threw 50 pitches in emergency relief of him Friday against the Giants, is the logical candidate, though Martinez said there are other options.

Those includes Jefry Rodriguez, who threw 60 pitches over four innings Saturday night. If nothing else, Rodriguez and Espino could share duties and combine for perhaps five or six innings, depending on how the game plays out.

The good news: Because of off-days Thursday and Monday, the Nationals won’t need to find another starter for this weekend’s four-game series against the Mets. Even with a doubleheader Saturday on South Capitol Street, the Nats can send Erick Fedde, Joe Ross, Jon Lester and Patrick Corbin to the mound on full rest. Then Scherzer could potentially come off the IL on Tuesday to face the Phillies.

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