Scherzer (back pain) likely to be pushed back

July 28th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- 's status to make his next start Tuesday against the Braves was still up in the air Sunday morning, according to Nationals manager Dave Martinez. Scherzer was scheduled for a cardio day prior to the Nats’ series finale against the Dodgers, but he still had not picked up a baseball two days after he received a stem cell shot to relieve a mild strain of the rhomboid muscle in his upper back.

Scherzer, who turned 35 Saturday, has been shut down since Friday after he woke up feeling back pain following his return from the injured list the previous day, when he allowed three runs in five innings and struck out eight against the Rockies. Usually, Scherzer likes to throw off a mound three days before his next start, which would have been Saturday to line him up for Tuesday, but did not throw one Saturday or Sunday. Martinez all but said Scherzer would need to throw a bullpen before the Nationals allowed him to start a game, but he stopped short of ruling Scherzer out.

“We’re talking about Max,” Martinez said. “So, who knows what he’s thinking or what he’s going to do. If he goes and works out and says ‘I don’t feel a thing’ I don’t want to jump to any conclusions until I talk to Max.”

But Scherzer taking the mound Tuesday night appears increasingly unlikely. Martinez emphasized the importance of moving past this back injury, which first popped up following his start on June 30 against the Tigers. He pitched through it and dominated in his next start on July 6 (striking out 11 in seven shutout innings against the Royals), but it was nearly three weeks until his next one this past Thursday. The back injury has lingered throughout the entire month of July and Martinez wants to make sure it doesn’t continue for the rest of the season.

“I want to make sure that he’s 100 percent,” Martinez said. “We need Max to be 100 percent to get us through the next few months. Regardless of how, he’s got to prove to us that he is that.”

Scherzer’s injury interrupted what had been a historic run and almost certainly the best of his career. He won NL Pitcher of the Month honors in June following one the best months in perhaps two decades. In a nine-start stretch from May 22 to July 6, Scherzer went 7-0 with a 0.84 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 94/9.

The Nationals do not want to be without Scherzer for any extended period, especially considering their rotation depth is already thin. Austin Voth is also on the injured list and has been shut down with shoulder tendinitis. It leaves righty Erick Fedde as the most likely replacement for Tuesday if Scherzer does not take the mound.

“If you know Max, he’s a little frustrated right now, little ornery,” Martinez said. “Hopefully this is something we can take care of sooner than later.”

Nats want Ross to rely more on curveball

When first arrived in the big leagues for the Nationals back in 2015 and in his first full season in ’16, he had success relying heavily on his sinker and mixing in a slider. Through the first 35 games (32 starts) of his career, he posted a 3.52 ERA and was a solidly above average starter with an ERA+ of 118.

The Nationals want him to get back to that point. During a meeting Sunday morning with Martinez and pitching coach Paul Menhart, they emphasized to Ross some changes in his pitch mix they believe can help him get back on track after what has been a tough 2019 season, his first full season coming off Tommy John surgery. In 19 games, Ross owns a 9.85 ERA, which includes giving up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings coming in as the bulk pitcher following the opener in Saturday’s 9-3 loss to the Dodgers.

“I sat with him and Paul and talked to him about where we’re at and what we want him to do,” Martinez said. “He’s having trouble with his slider right now. Yesterday, he threw some curveballs that were actually pretty good. So moving forward we want to kind of eliminate the slider and continue to work on his curveball.”

Worth noting

Ever since they returned from the injured list from their respective injuries earlier in the season, and have started every game for the Nationals, including Sunday afternoon against the Dodgers. For Turner that makes 62 consecutive games since he returned from a broken right index finger on May 17. And Rendon is playing in his 71st straight game since May 7, when he came back from a bruised left elbow. can also be added to the mix, since he’s playing in his 67th straight game since he came back from the IL after experiencing back spasms.

Martinez has said he has been searching for days to give them a breather, but has not done so thus far. Washington will begin a three-game series against Atlanta at home on Monday, but will then embark on an 11-day West Coast swing.

“I’d like to, we’ve got some pretty important games [coming up],” Martinez said. “And they understand, they get it. These are two guys [Rendon and Turner] I talk to a lot about days off, and they’re both adamant about not wanting days off.”