Nats like their chances with Mad Max starting G4

October 7th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Once again, with their season on the line, the Nationals will turn to .

After his surprise relief appearance in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, Scherzer and manager Dave Martinez decided it would be best to give Scherzer an extra day of rest, knowing that both he and Aníbal Sánchez would have to start the next two games of the NLDS. The Nats can feel fortunate about that decision after dropping Game 3, 10-4, on Sunday night, because it saved Scherzer for Game 4 on Monday with a chance to push the series back to Los Angeles, where Stephen Strasburg would await a winner-take-all game.

“We've got our two best guys that anybody would want going the next couple days,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “So we like our chances.”

To be fair, Monday’s elimination game won’t exactly be uncharted territory for these Nationals, who have made a habit of overcoming adversity. They were, of course, 19-31 at one point in the year and appeared headed for a lost season. In the NL Wild Card Game, they trailed 3-1 going into the eighth inning against one the most unhittable closers -- Josh Hader -- in baseball. They were blitzed by the Dodgers in Game 1, only to come back and even the series with a win in Game 2.

“I think we’re weirdly comfortable in this spot with our backs against the wall,” left-hander Sean Doolittle said.

Scherzer gets the ball to pitch in his second elimination game in a week after starting the Wild Card Game Tuesday. He gave up a pair of homers in the opening two innings before settling down to pitch five innings of three-run ball. He came back again on Friday night to strike out the side during a 14-pitch eighth inning, and instead of starting Sunday, Scherzer believed the extra day of rest would help.

“Everything,” he said prior to Game 3. “I would say probably the number of pitches you can go in a specific day. I know if I can go [Monday], I can probably give more. I don't even know what the number is right now. That's kind of out the door.”

Pitching plans have been out the door since the start of this postseason for the Nationals, where starters have become relievers and bullpen sessions are best held for the eighth inning. Scherzer tossed that dominant eighth inning Friday, striking out the side three days after he tossed 77 pitches against the Brewers. Scherzer entered Friday after Doolittle relieved Strasburg, who started the game on two days’ rest because he threw three shutout innings in the NL Wild Card Game. On Sunday, it was Patrick Corbin’s turn for a relief appearance -- although his outing did not go as smoothly, putting the Nationals on the brink of elimination.

The Nats have been treating each game this series with the urgency of an elimination game, so don’t expect them to treat Monday differently.

“All hands on deck,” Martinez said. “We are going to come out, we're going to fight and those guys know what we're playing for. We want to go to L.A. That's all this means. I told them that's all this means, we would have to go to L.A. again.”

Washington had been cautious with Scherzer, who battled back and right shoulder ailments during the second half of the regular season, all year before turning him loose in the postseason. And he has seen an uptick in his fastball velocity, which averaged 94.9 mph during the regular season. In his start on Tuesday night, Scherzer’s four-seamer averaged 97.1 mph. During his relief appearance on Friday, it was up to 98.2.

“I've had some fun with the other guys in the clubhouse, ‘Still the old guy, can still throw hard,’” Scherzer said. “But for me, it's just a mentality of just going out there with everything on the line. The atmospheres I've pitched in, here with the Wild Card Game and then there on the road in Dodger Stadium ... I mean, it's been intense. So you're going to get the best out of me.”

With their season on the line in Game 4, the Nationals are counting on it.

“We know what he’s got,” Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger said. “We’ve faced him a few times and we know he’s going to be crazy on the mound, staring at you. You have to be ready for it. It’s going to be a fun game.”