If for any reason there was a sliver of lingering doubt about the Nationals’ starting pitcher for Game 1 of the National League Division Series Friday, Manager Dusty Baker erased it Tuesday in announcing that Max Scherzer will get the start. The decision makes official the expected marquee matchup between Scherzer and Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
The two have faced off just once, on Sept. 7, 2008, at Dodger Stadium. Both were rookies. Scherzer, pitching for the Diamondbacks, allowed three runs on five hits and had 11 strikeouts to one walk over five innings. It was his fourth career start. Kershaw yielded three runs on five hits across four innings. He posted four strikeouts and one walk in what was his 18th career start. The two pitchers have since combined for 10 all-star game appearances and four Cy Young Awards.
“It’s awesome,” Scherzer said. “You don’t measure yourself when you face the worst. You measure yourself when you face the best and he’s been the best. And he’s an unbelievable pitcher. And, man, I can’t wait to compete against him.”
Baker declined to reveal his rotation beyond Game 1, however. When asked about Game 2’s starter, Baker said it was “unsettled.” Unlike their opponents, the Dodgers announced their starters last week. Rich Hill goes in Game 2, and Kenta Maeda in Game 3. Rookie left-hander Julio Urias would be an option for Game 4, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said last week, but the choice would depend on how Kershaw comes out of his Game 1 start.
Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark, who posted a 2.83 ERA this season, figures to get the start in Game 2 on five days’ rest, followed by Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross, probably in that order, for Games 3 and 4. But not naming the Game 2 starter opens the door for other scenarios — perhaps starting the left-handed Gonzalez in Game 2 against a Dodgers team that finished last in baseball in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage against left-handed pitching. Or it could be just some gamesmanship.
Having Scherzer start Game 4 on short rest is an option, but Baker has said he would prefer not to do that.
“I don’t know,” Scherzer said. “That’s a situation where you got to see how this series is unfolding into Game 4. I know I’ve come back in relief before, but you got to cross that bridge when you get there.”
>>> Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo on Tuesday reiterated what he has already said about Stephen Strasburg’s status: If the Nationals deem him healthy and able when the club is still in the postseason, he could return in 2016.
“If he’s ready to pitch, he will pitch,” Rizzo said. “That’s as far as I can go with that statement right now. He’s in his return-to-throw program and if he’s ready to pitch if we’re fortunate enough to go beyond here, he’ll go pitch.”
>>> Michael A. Taylor had his left thumb wrapped in a bandage Tuesday. He injured the thumb sliding into second base headfirst Saturday against the Marlins. The outfielder underwent tests Sunday and the results were negative, but Baker indicated the injury will sideline Taylor, whose chances of making the NLDS roster were already slim.
“He’s doing, I don’t know, not well,” Baker said. “Anybody who’s ever hurt their thumb, you know it takes some time because you don’t have very good circulation there and it takes a while to heal. And he had hurt it before, so naturally he’s a little apprehensive — and we are too — for him to to do things. So we’re not sure about Michael Taylor.”
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