WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon have been the Nationals' Most Valuable Players through the first half of the season, carrying as much of the workload as anyone to help turn Washington’s season around over the past six weeks. Both Scherzer and Rendon might have just completed the best first half of each of their respective careers, which is not exactly a low bar to clear. Both players are so crucial to the Nats success this season that its almost impossible to imagine the Nats continuing their postseason push without Rendon at third base and Scherzer on the mound.
And their commitment to the Nationals is why both players have decided to sit out the 2019 MLB All-Star Game tonight at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, electing to give their nagging injuries some time to heal, rather than risk playing through them. Rendon will remain in D.C. to receive treatment on his tight left hamstring and quad, while Scherzer attended the festivities in Cleveland without pitching due to a stiff back.
“It’s a grueling season,” Nats manager Dave Martinez said. “These guys, both Anthony and Max, are All-Stars. They deserve to be there. ... They chose it’s best for them to rest. I said this [Saturday] about Anthony: It stinks. And I’ll say it again about Max: It stinks. But we came to the conclusion that rest would be good for both of them.”
Even though he won’t pitch in the game, Scherzer sat at his podium at media day Monday answering questions ranging from the Nationals' season turnaround, the state of baseball's home run rates and his own All-Star game memories -- one of his favorites came in 2013 when he got a chance to chat with former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year.
“I remember I was pinching myself,” Scherzer told reporters Monday. “Just being out in center field in BP, just hanging out and talking to him and talking pitching. I remember I was like, 'Man, I hope you don’t retire.'”
This is the seventh straight year that Scherzer has been chosen for the All-Star Game, but he still gets excited for the contest as if it were his first.
Only after his back continued to feel stiff after his 103-pitch outing Saturday -- in which he struck out 11 in seven shutout innings -- did he decide it would not be smart to put himself at risk by pitching in the Midsummer Classic. But that wasn’t going to stop him from going to Cleveland, and he’s bringing his older daughter, Brooklyn, along for the ride.
“I just think [my back] needs a few days rest,” Scherzer said. “I think this is a perfect time to have to need some rest, and I get a chance to take it. So hopefully I get healed up, good to go and have a good second half.”
Rendon, meanwhile, became an All-Star for the first time this season, finally rewarded after being overlooked throughout his seven-year career. However, he has been playing through his injuries since a three-game series in Cincinnati near the start of June, yet he hasn’t received a day off since he returned from the injured list at the beginning of May. This week will be the first chance he gets at an extended break.
“It's definitely feeling better,” Rendon said. “I mean, I can’t lie about that. But it's definitely not over that hump, per se. And I know if I had these next four days, it would kind of get me there and I'd be running to first base. Put it that way. And I'd be running from first to home, and kind of being the player that I need to be.”
Even with injuries nagging him the past few weeks, Rendon’s production has not sagged and he is putting together a career year. He enters the break with a slash line at .304/.386/.611 and 20 home runs. His .997 OPS is the sixth highest in the National League and he is ranked seventh in the NL in Wins Above Replacement with 3.3, per Fangraphs, despite missing 14 games with a bruised left elbow. He has found a way to raise his game to another level.
Rendon has spent the past few weeks joking about the All-Star Game and his attendance, but he also acknowledged this weekend that he is honored to be selected for the game.
“Especially being a player vote,” he said. “That my peers have that respect for me, I appreciate it a lot. But since the game really doesn’t mean too much at the moment, except for personal reasons, we have bigger fish to fry here in D.C. So we’re trying to get everyone healthy and I’m a part of that as well, so I want to be a big threat for the second half.”
Scherzer’s injury is a much newer development, one that he said began bothering him about a week ago in Detroit. In the two starts since then, he’s allowed one run in 15 innings, with 25 strikeouts and one walk. Maybe the bad back explains the one run.
The last nine starts from Scherzer -- dating back to May 22 -- have been incredible. He’s given up just six runs in 64 innings (0.84 ERA) with 94 strikeouts and nine walks, allowing an OPS of .476 to opposing hitters. Scherzer has found himself in the driver's seat to capture another Cy Young Award, as he leads the NL in pitcher’s WAR (5.5), FIP (2.00), strikeouts (181) and innings pitched (129 1/3), while his 2.30 ERA is the third best in the NL.
Scherzer sounded extremely confident that resting during the break will allow his back issue to resolve itself. His next scheduled start is not until Sunday.
“Our season matters so much more than the All-Star Game,” Scherzer said. “This was an opportunity to gain rest and not for [pitching] in the All-Star Game.”
Ultimately, that was the difference for Scherzer and Rendon. They were both honored to be selected to the game, even if they both have their own unique way of showing it. But their commitment to Washington and trying to get the Nationals back to the postseason was stronger than the prospects of playing in the All-Star Game.
The All-Star Game presented by Mastercard will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage.