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How the Nationals’ rotation lines up for the rest of the regular season — and beyond

The Nationals have Max Scherzer lined up to pitch the seasons's most important games. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

MINNEAPOLIS — The Washington Nationals made a subtle tweak to their starting rotation this week, moving Max Scherzer up to pitch Friday and flipping Austin Voth behind him.

The surface-level reason was to keep Scherzer on a regular four days rest between outings, a routine he’s missed for most of this summer with a string of injuries. But the calculations went well beyond that. In late July, when Scherzer was still working back to full health, Washington had lined Scherzer up to pitch in the National League wild card game. Yet that was when they still had a chance to catch the Atlanta Braves in the division. Scherzer’s status, both short- and long-term, was up in the air. Manager Dave Martinez made the announcement through laughter — a lot of it — and rightfully so.

Now, in mid-September, the wild card game is the Nationals’ reality. Having to carefully map their rotation is, too. Entering Thursday, and later a series finale with the Minnesota Twins, Washington has a three-game lead over the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers for the top wild card spot. And Scherzer, to no surprise, is still on track to pitch the season’s most important games. Scherzer has been slowly building his workload since coming off the injured list on Aug. 24. His last start, six innings and 98 full-intensity pitches against the Braves, was an encouraging indication that he’ll be back to normal by month’s end.

“I was even ready to pitch the seventh inning,” Scherzer said after that outing this past Sunday. “Really thought I had 110 pitches today.”

The Nationals have one more off day on the schedule. If they don’t tinker with their rotation after that, Scherzer would be on regular rest for the final game of the season — at home against the Cleveland Indians — just in case it matters. If it doesn’t, and Washington has already clinched the postseason, he’d have two extra days of rest before the wild card game on Oct. 1. As far as who could start Game 162 in his place, a final week doubleheader with the Philadelphia Phillies, and an expanded roster, makes that pretty easy to plan.

The doubleheader is inconvenient in a lot of ways. It was forced onto the schedule by a rain out in mid-June. It makes it so the Nationals have to play 11 games in 10 days to finish the year. But since the Nationals will need a spot starter for it, that same guy could pitch Sunday if Scherzer is bumped to the wild card game, which will almost certainly happen. The options for those spot starts are likely Erick Fedde or Jeremy Hellickson. Joe Ross is shut down from throwing due to forearm pain. Austin Voth took his spot in the rotation, though that could change, and the Nationals have kept Fedde and Hellickson fresh in case they need to take a turn.

Below is how the rotation looks the rest of the way. The Nationals also get their three best starters against the St. Louis Cardinals next week, and have Scherzer for games against the Braves, Cardinals and Phillies, all postseason contenders:

Sept. 12 (Twins) — Patrick Corbin

Sept. 13 (Braves) — Max Scherzer

Sept. 14 (Braves) — Austin Voth

Sept. 15 (Braves) — Aníbal Sánchez

Sept. 16 (Cardinals) — Stephen Strasburg

Sept. 17 (Cardinals) — Corbin

Sept. 18 (Cardinals) — Scherzer

Sept. 19 — Off day

Sept. 20 (Marlins) — Voth

Sept. 21 (Marlins) — Sánchez

Sept. 22 (Marlins) — Strasburg

Sept. 23 (Phillies) — Corbin

Sept. 24 (Phillies) (split doubleheader) — Scherzer and spot starter (Jeremy Hellickson/Erick Fedde)

Sept. 25 — Voth

Sept. 26 — Sánchez

Sept. 27 — Strasburg

Sept. 28 — Corbin

Sept. 29 — Scherzer or Tuesday’s spot starter (Hellickson/Fedde)

Sept. 30 — Off day

Oct. 1 — NL wild card game

This schedule would give Strasburg an extra day of rest before facing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Game 1 of the National League Division Series. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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