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Yet to throw bullpen, Max uncertain for Sunday

Nationals being cautious as ace rehabs lower back strain
@JamalCollier
July 18, 2019

ATLANTA -- Max Scherzer played catch at about 90 feet on Thursday, increasing the intensity from the previous two days and including the shoulder exercises that have become part of his routine. He did not throw off the mound as the Nationals hoped, however, putting his status to start this

ATLANTA -- Max Scherzer played catch at about 90 feet on Thursday, increasing the intensity from the previous two days and including the shoulder exercises that have become part of his routine. He did not throw off the mound as the Nationals hoped, however, putting his status to start this weekend against the Braves even more in question.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez had hoped Scherzer would be able to throw a bullpen session by Thursday, which would have lined him up to be activated from the injured list, where he is sidelined with a lower back strain, for Sunday night’s series finale. While Martinez was not ready to rule Scherzer out to start Sunday, considering he could still throw a light bullpen session Friday afternoon, Martinez reiterated he wants Scherzer to be back at full strength rather than pushing it.

“The biggest thing with me is to make sure that he’s 100 percent,” Martinez said. “That’s something we talked about today. I talked with him, he’s got to feel 100 percent before he goes back out there. He feels good, and he says he’s close, but we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Initially, Scherzer did not expect to miss any time with the back injury, which he developed during his final start at the end of June in Detroit. He sat out the All-Star Game to give himself a few days of extra rest, but when the injury lingered, Washington placed him on the injured list this past Saturday.

If Scherzer cannot start Sunday, Austin Voth, who seems likely to remain in the Nats’ rotation as their fifth starter either way, would be able to start on regular rest.

Martinez estimated Scherzer feels at about 90 percent, upping the intensity of his throwing program in recent days to test his back. But even though Washington began a crucial four-game series in Atlanta on Thursday night, giving the Nats a direct opportunity to gain ground in the National League East, they do not want to rush Scherzer back when they know they will need him to continue their playoff push through the second half.

“You know how Max is, this is really, really bothering him right now,” Martinez said. “One, he missed a start before already, so you know I’m fighting with the competitive nature of Max. But, we need to do what’s best, not only for him, but for the organization, too. I have to explain to him, 'There’s a lot of baseball left, and we need you for the long haul.'”

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.