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Nats' WC Game starter likely to be Scherzer

Suzuki's return to catching pushed back; Doolittle's role coming into focus
@zachsilver
September 24, 2019

WASHINGTON -- For as much as Nationals manager Dave Martinez preaches the mindset of being “1-0 every day,” there now exists the need of foresight. The Nats have clinched a spot in the National League Wild Card Game on Oct. 1. They don't yet know if they'll be the home

WASHINGTON -- For as much as Nationals manager Dave Martinez preaches the mindset of being “1-0 every day,” there now exists the need of foresight. The Nats have clinched a spot in the National League Wild Card Game on Oct. 1. They don't yet know if they'll be the home team or visitor, but who starts in that all-or-nothing game is a question soon needing an answer.

On Tuesday, ahead of the Nats clinching a spot, Martinez seemed to provide an answer to that inquiry, all but officially naming Max Scherzer as the starter.

“We have, really, four guys right now that are pitching really well,” Martinez said, “but if it turns out -- if you look at the schedule right now -- that’s Max’s day, and he’s one of the best.”

Scherzer allowed four runs over six innings during the nightcap of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Phillies, which will most likely be his final start of a 2019 regular-season campaign that saw him miss a handful of starts with back ailments following the All-Star break.

But health for the NL Cy Young Award candidate is no longer an issue in Martinez’s eyes. So, barring any unforeseen setbacks following Tuesday’s outing, it seems that the Nats have their guy.

“For me, let’s get through today and see how he’s feeling and how he’s doing,” Martinez said. “The last two outings, he’s felt really good. I’m hoping that he goes out there today and pitches the way he pitches here his last start, and then we’ll go from there.”

Suzuki update

The Nats originally had Tuesday’s nightcap circled for Kurt Suzuki to make his return behind the plate, but that timeline is being pushed back. With Suzuki’s right elbow at only “70 to 75 percent,” per Martinez, the team will give him a few more days to recover, with Friday or Saturday serving as the next pinpointed time for Suzuki to get back into a game behind the dish.

Suzuki remains available to pinch-hit when needed, which he did this past Saturday in Miami. He continues to try out throwing, doing so from 120 feet as of late, as well as catching bullpen sessions and simulating the act of throwing to second base from behind the plate.

Martinez said there’s a chance that Suzuki could be in the lineup for the NL Wild Card Game, but “I’d rather not push the envelope right now.

“But because we have little time, I’d rather have him get as close to possible to 100 percent as we can. He’s progressing fine and with the conversation I had with him and [head trainer] Paul [Lessard] last night, we felt the best thing is to let him continue to do that and see if we can get him to Friday or Saturday. … He’s adamant about trying to play this weekend.”

With Suzuki also under contract for 2020, the Nats are showcasing an especially cautious eye with elbow injuries that can be particularly tricky.

“If we take a chance and he does get hurt again,” Martinez said, “he’s pretty much done for the year.”

Doolittle’s role solidifying

If the Nats hadn’t made Monday’s win over the Phillies quite as comfortable by the ninth inning, it would have been Sean Doolittle’s game to close. That seems to be the final indication that Doolittle is back to where he started the year -- as one of Washington's late-inning hurlers. Now, however, matchups could play more of a role. In Tuesday afternoon's 4-1 win over the Phils in Game 1 of a doubleheader, Doolittle pitched a perfect eighth.

“We talked about it, he’s either going to pitch the eighth or ninth -- in high-leverage situations,” Martinez said. “If we are going to do this, we need him to pitch in those big moments.

“We talked to him. If the situation arises where we have a chance in the eighth inning with lefties up, then he’d pitch the eighth. But for the most part, where it matches up that he faces those lefties in the ninth, he will close.”

Zachary Silver is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Baltimore/Washington. Follow him on Twitter @zachsilver.