- The Washington Times
Wednesday, July 17, 2019

BALTIMORE — Nationals ace Max Scherzer made progress in his rehab from his back injury Wednesday, throwing from 90-feet away in the Orioles’ outfield. But Washington still hasn’t made a decision if the 35-year-old will pitch this weekend in Atlanta.

The Nationals begin a pivotal four-game series Thursday against the Braves, who lead the National League East by six games. The team plans to start Stephen Strasburg on Thursday and Patrick Corbin on Friday.

Manager Dave Martinez said Scherzer could possibly throw a light bullpen on Thursday — and if that goes well, the three-time Cy Young winner could possibly start Sunday.

“He felt a lot better than (Tuesday), which is encouraging,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how he feels (Thursday).”

Martinez did not specify how long Scherzer threw from 90-feet away, but mentioned he threw “significantly more” and with more intensity.

The Nationals placed Scherzer on the injured list Saturday (retroactive to July 10) as the pitcher still felt back tightness after the All-Star break. Scherzer has missed one start so far with the injury.

Scherzer has been dealing with back tightness since July 1, when he started against the Detroit Tigers. Scherzer, who was named the NL pitcher of the month for June, received enough treatment to feel comfortable to start against the Kansas City Royals on his regular rest — but later that night, the team announced Scherzer was withdrawing from the All-Star Game.

A day later, Scherzer told reporters that his back tightened up again in his start, and that it wouldn’t be wise to pitch on short rest for an exhibition game. But Scherzer, who still attended the All-Star Game’s events in Cleveland, expressed confidence his injury wouldn’t go past the break.

“It really couldn’t happen at a better time where I can get some rest on eight days now,” Scherzer said. “I need some rest right now to let this thing fully heal up so that I’m completely good to go for the second half.”

When the Nationals returned from the break, Scherzer still wasn’t ready to pitch. Anibal Sanchez, the fourth starter, started in Scherzer’s place against the Philadelphia Phillies. That Friday when speaking to reporters in Philadelphia, Scherzer even said he thought he could pitch the following Tuesday against the Orioles — only for Austin Voth to start instead.

Also on Wednesday, the Nationals sent infielder Adrian Sanchez to Double-A Harrisburg and called up pitcher Erick Fedde to start. By sending Sanchez to the minors — instead of Voth — the Nationals have the option to start Voth on Sunday, if Scherzer can’t pitch. Scherzer told The Washington Times that he has not been told yet if he will pitch in the Braves series.

Sanchez is expected to start Saturday.

The Nationals, obviously, could use Scherzer as they look to make up games in the division. Until the injury, Scherzer was making his case for not only another Cy Young — but also an argument to be named the NL MVP at the end of the season. Over his last seven starts, Scherzer has allowed just five runs for an impressive 0.87 ERA. Batters hit just .157 against him in that span.

If the Nationals do have to push Scherzer’s start back again, Martinez said he isn’t worried about the back injury being a long-term issue.

“Right now I’m not concerned at all based on what I’m hearing from him,” Martinez said. “He’s pretty honest with these things. Let’s just say that he feels good today, better than he did yesterday. Hopefully, tomorrow he gets up and feels better than he did today. And then we’ll go from there.”

Freelancer David Driver contributed 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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