PITTSBURGH — The Washington Nationals believe, even more so now, that their long wait for Max Scherzer’s return is almost over.

The ace has been expected to return against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday. That remained the case Monday, before the Nationals’ 7:05 p.m. matchup with Pittsburgh; Scherzer threw his usual between-starts bullpen session at PNC Park. He always throws a bullpen session three days before his next start. Scherzer even told reporters, “See you Thursday,” while walking through the visiting clubhouse, and he was in a noticeably happy mood.

“Barring anything,” Manager Dave Martinez said Monday when asked whether the plan remains the same. “He felt good again today. So he’s scheduled to pitch Thursday.”

Scherzer has been on the injured list since July 29 with what was publicly diagnosed as a mild rhomboid muscle strain. He has been dealing with various aches and injuries since the end of June, including a mid-back strain and bursitis in the scapula below his right shoulder blade. His absence has been lengthier than anticipated, but the Nationals have been extra careful, considering the setback he experienced a few weeks back.

The 35-year-old returned from an IL stint against the Colorado Rockies on July 25. He threw 86 pitches and told reporters he felt fine afterward. But he woke up with discomfort, and tests revealed the rhomboid strain. He has made just that one start since the all-star break. So the Nationals are hoping that this return is for the rest of the pennant race and beyond. Martinez reiterated that Scherzer will be on a pitch limit at first, which could mean between 75 and 80 pitches in the series finale here.

When Scherzer slides back into the rotation, Erick Fedde or Joe Ross will be bumped out. Both have pitched well in August, with Fedde slipping a bit in a 16-8 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday. Ross has been particularly impressive, and with Monday’s start in Pittsburgh he has one more chance to lobby for regular starts down the stretch.

“He was happy. Very talkative, which is good,” Martinez said of Scherzer. “He’s been working hard to get back. Hopefully we’re beyond this and we move forward and he does well and we finish the season with him and head to good places.”


Nationals (67-56)

Trea Turner, SS

Adam Eaton, RF

Anthony Rendon, 3B

Juan Soto, LF

Asdrúbal Cabrera, 2B

Matt Adams, 1B

Victor Robles, CF

Yan Gomes, C

Joe Ross, P

Pirates (51-72)

Adam Frazier, 2B

Bryan Reynolds, LF

Starling Marte, CF

Josh Bell, 1B

Colin Moran, 3B

Melky Cabrera, RF

Kevin Newman, SS

Elias Diaz, C

Trevor Williams, P