The Washington Nationals, the team Scherzer leads on the mound and in the clubhouse, are still alive in the World Series. They trail the Houston Astros, 3-2, with Game 6 on Tuesday night in Houston. And should the Nationals win that contest, which will be started by Stephen Strasburg, they are still waiting to see whether Scherzer could pitch in a do-or-die Game 7 on Wednesday. As of Monday afternoon, when Manager Dave Martinez held a conference call with reporters, Martinez only offered that he had not yet spoken to Scherzer. Martinez added that the 35-year-old ace is likely to rest while letting a cortisone shot, injected Sunday, kick in.
“As we all know Max, he’s going to try to push it a little bit,” Martinez said. “But we want to just let this medicine kick in a little bit and see where we’re at.”
The consensus among Scherzer’s teammates, coaches and the Nationals’ front office is simple: If Scherzer couldn’t go in Game 5 of the World Series — or any game, really — he has to be in serious, serious pain. But that doesn’t mean he won’t do everything to pitch if Washington extends its season. Doctors told Scherzer it should take 48 hours to alleviate the nerve irritation. Martinez described a 24-hour window before Scherzer could feasibly begin testing his arm. Scherzer has dealt with neck spasms at various points of his career, but he described this as “the most severe one of all time.” So now he waits to see whether the pain subsides.
And now the Nationals cross their fingers and hope.
“I’ve pitched through so much crap in my career that would be easy to pitch through at this point,” Scherzer said Sunday. “This is literally impossible to do anything with.”
If Scherzer can’t start Game 7, should the Nationals make it there, Aníbal Sánchez will be on regular rest after throwing 93 pitches Friday. Sánchez shortened his between-starts bullpen session Sunday in case Martinez needed him in relief in Game 5. Indications were that Sánchez could have given the Nationals up to an inning. But since Martinez didn’t need him to — and instead filled 27 outs with Joe Ross, Tanner Rainey, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson — Sánchez ended the night by completing his throw day. He was in the bullpen, tossing in full uniform, as the Astros finished a lopsided win.
The Nationals should also have Patrick Corbin available in relief. The wrinkle is that the left-hander could be called upon in Game 6 to pitch an inning or face lefties such as Michael Brantley, Yordan Alvarez or Josh Reddick. Game 6 comes just three days after Corbin threw 96 pitches in a Game 4 loss. Game 7 would give him three days of rest — one fewer than he usually gets between starts but typical of his workload this postseason. No pitcher had ever made three starts and four relief appearances in the same playoffs. Corbin has, to mixed results, and it’s likely his work in this series is not finished.
Martinez noted Monday that he will approach Game 6 as if it is a Game 7. That means both Sánchez and Corbin could follow Strasburg out of the bullpen. But Martinez also acknowledged that Corbin and Sánchez’s usage will be connected to how Scherzer’s body responds to treatment. If it appears as if he will be good for Game 7, Martinez would be more likely to empty his staff to even the series. If it appears as if Scherzer’s season is over, Martinez may be hesitant to burn both Corbin and Sánchez on Tuesday.
“There won’t be a Game 7 if we can’t get out of Game 6,” Martinez said Monday. “Our focus is on winning tomorrow and going 1-0 and go from there.”
Going from there, in Washington’s perfect world, would be getting a win to give Scherzer the ball with everything on the line. But the Nationals are still unsure of what they can and can’t count on in the final days of a seven-month season. And maybe it’s fitting that they have one final obstacle to overcome.