In this case, though, Scherzer wondered if the club had shared that he was scratched from starting because of discomfort in his right triceps. Nothing else to see here. Not yet, at least.
Just Scherzer’s aching triceps and the Nationals (45-52) dropping back-to-back games to the Orioles (33-64), who still have MLB’s second-worst record. Just Matt Harvey entering with a 7.13 ERA before setting down 18 of the 19 batters he faced. And just Washington teasing a comeback that lost steam in the eighth inning, when Juan Soto dug in as the go-ahead run and hit a sky-high popup, the ball finding catcher Pedro Severino’s mitt in front of the visitors’ dugout.
“We still got a lot of baseball left. We really do,” said Manager Dave Martinez, perhaps nodding to the two months left in the season rather than the six days until the deadline. “Our offense has to get it going again. I mean, we were swinging the bats so well and now, all of a sudden, we’re not. So we got to get back to staying in the middle field, getting ready early and just trying not to do too much.”
“Usually, solo homers don’t beat you,” added Jon Lester, who replaced Scherzer and yielded three runs, including shots to Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle, in five innings. “They beat me tonight.”
Once word of his triceps was out, Scherzer explained the timeline and circumstances. At the start of the week, he felt some pain in his triceps. On Tuesday, while he was taking batting practice, the pain returned during a swing, leading him to believe it was a minor, hitting-related injury. On Wednesday, then, he threw his between-starts bullpen session, felt fine during it and noticed some more triceps pain thereafter. Then Friday, a clean MRI exam revealed no strain or other structural damage.
The consensus was for him to skip Saturday’s outing, let the inflammation die down and plan to make his next start, avoiding the injured list. Scherzer is confident that’s how this will unfold. Paolo Espino will start Sunday’s series finale, and the plan for Monday at Philadelphia has yet to be determined.
“The elbow is fine, the shoulder is fine. ... We don’t have any problems there,” Scherzer said. “I just got to get rid of this inflammation in the triceps so that when I pitch nothing bad happens.”
In June, he spent a week on the injured list with groin inflammation. He believes that short stint is connected to him hurting his triceps while swinging.
His logic is that, by missing a stretch and then not hitting for close to a week during the all-star break, his body reacted to a return to his usual schedule. That is why Scherzer doesn’t plan to scale back his hitting once the triceps is healed. He’s not typically a believer in less is more.
“This is what happens when you don’t swing enough — then you can get hurt,” he explained. “So for me, I attribute this to not being in the cage and not being in my normal routine of hitting enough.”
As for his next start — the one Scherzer and Martinez are confident he will make — there’s at least some doubt about whether it will be with the Nationals. Of course, that is a crippling thought for the team and its fans. For 6½ years, ever since he signed that mega contract, Scherzer has been the heartbeat of the rotation and the clubhouse. He has won two Cy Young Awards and a World Series. He could one day enter the Hall of Fame in a Nationals hat.
But a bumpy and injury-filled season has left Washington with the choice to buy, sell or hold at Friday’s deadline. If the Nationals sell, meaning they feel the division title is out of reach, General Manager Mike Rizzo promised to explore all possibilities, including deals that send Scherzer elsewhere. Scherzer, who turns 37 on Tuesday, has to approve any trade because he has played 10 major league seasons and has spent at least five years with his current team. And that means big decisions are coming soon.
“It’s just part of the business of the game. I mean, that’s just the reality,” Scherzer said of being in trade discussions both valid and baseless. “But for me, I come to the park wanting to win and wanting to win here. You just come in and put the blinders up.”
Past those blinders, though, where Washington sits seven games back of the Mets in the National League East, the situation is bleak. In the past two days, the Orioles started Jorge López, who had a 6.04 ERA, and Harvey, who has spent this season getting knocked around. Washington managed one run and five hits in 10⅔ innings against them.
On Saturday, in their best chance to erase a deficit that grew with Austin Voth on the mound, the Nationals loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth. They needed four runs to tie. Josh Harrison led off with a double. Carter Kieboom, recalled before the game to replace the injured Jordy Mercer, pinch-hit and was plunked by lefty Tanner Scott’s slider. Then Scott hit Tres Barrera with a near-identical pitch.
But Victor Robles pinch-hit and struck out looking on a borderline strike; Alcides Escobar struck out, too; and Trea Turner’s two-run single could only do so much. Soto followed and lifted Scott’s high fastball way above the third base line. When it landed, sealing a stalled rally, Washington kept moving in the wrong direction at the wrong time. And when Kieboom went down swinging to end it, odds of the Nationals selling increased.
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