Max Scherzer played catch on flat ground in right field, not off a bullpen mound, early Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park, a distinction with potentially significant ramifications two days before the Nationals host the Cubs for Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
On Tuesday, Scherzer insisted his tight right hamstring would not prevent him from pitching in the NLDS. Game 1, however, was already unlikely. All indications, including Stephen Strasburg throwing a bullpen while Scherzer threw on flat ground, pointed to Strasburg starting Game 1. But a successful bullpen session Wednesday probably would’ve put the 33-year-old Scherzer in line to start Game 2 on Saturday. If he starts then, he could start Game 5 on full rest — a point he emphasized when he spoke to reporters Tuesday.
That Scherzer didn’t attempt to throw a bullpen suggests the hamstring remained enough of a concern to not push it and potentially worsen the situation. Scherzer, of course, could throw a bullpen and pitch Saturday. He has thrown bullpens two days before starts before. But it’s not the norm. The Nationals could be targeting Monday’s Game 3 for him.
“We haven’t made the decision of when we’re going to pencil him in yet as far as where he’s going to pitch in the rotation here in the playoffs,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said before Scherzer appeared on the field during Washington’s workout on a cloudless afternoon. “Suffice it to say, he’s going to pitch in the playoffs here against the Cubs. It just depends on how he feels [for] which game we’re going to implement him in.”
Scherzer nor Manager Dusty Baker spoke with the media after Wednesday’s workout so answers will have to wait Thursday, when the Nationals are slated to announce their Game 1 starter, which almost certainly will be Strasburg.
“He’s certainly a capable No. 1 starter in the playoffs,” Rizzo said. “We feel good about running him out there if he were the guy. And who better? We have two aces, and one of them will pitch Game 1.”
Regardless, Scherzer’s situation will likely prompt the Nationals to carry an eight-man bullpen over a six-man bench to include a long-man as a safety net. The possibilities for the role seemingly include A.J. Cole, Edwin Jackson and Matt Grace.
Scherzer played catch with bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo. Pitching coach Mike Maddux and trainer Paul Lessard looked on. He started with light, short throws, slowly expanding the distance and increasing the intensity. He threw out of the stretch, out of the windup and with a side crow hop from the stretch. When Scherzer finished, he and Lessard spoke for a few minutes in the right field corner. They then walked in together and spoke to two other members of the training staff.
“He’s going to throw again today and we’ll see where he’s at,” Rizzo said. “We’ll make those decisions with his input and with the input of the medical people and our pitching people. He’s going to pitch in this series and want him as close to 100 percent as we can get him.”
Scherzer described his hamstring injury Tuesday as “confusing.” He said he can do everything — running, jumping, lifting and playing catch — but pitch off a mound. He said he notices something is wrong only when he drives off a mound. He didn’t call it pain. It was something else he couldn’t quite depict.
Whatever it is, the Nationals seem to remain confident it won’t stop him from pitching in the NLDS. The question is when.
“The reason for holding him back would be the concern on the hamstring,” Rizzo said. “We want him to be as close to 100 percent as we can get for him to pitch.”
— Brian Goodwin participated in Washington’s workout for the second straight day Wednesday. He remains in contention for a spot on the postseason roster despite not having played in a real game at any level since injuring his groin Aug. 13. He spent the final couple weeks of the regular season at the Nationals’ facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. and participated in instructional league until last week.
“I think I’m in a good place,” Goodwin said. “I got a chance to get a ton of at-bats. A lot of pitchers down there working on stuff trying to get better. I got the opportunity to go down there and see a lot of it and work with a lot of it so I think my timing is where I want it to be, where I would expect it to be.”
After beginning the season with Class AAA Syracuse, Goodwin, 26, batted .251 with an .811 OPS and 13 home runs in 74 games for the Nationals. He’s in the running for the fourth outfielder spot on Washington’s roster against Alejandro De Aza and Victor Robles.
— The Nationals finished their workout Wednesday with a simulated game. Most of the team’s regulars, including Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon, faced a group of minor leaguers summoned to pitch in the live session. Left-hander Ben Braymer, and right-handers Luis Reyes, Jefry Rodriguez and Gave Klobosits were among the hurlers.
Read more on the Nationals: