Max Scherzer was a late scratch in Sunday’s pivotal Game 5 against the Houston Astros as manager Dave Martinez announced the Nationals ace was dealing with a neck injury. Instead, reserve starter Joe Ross took his place on the mound.
“He was in there with the training staff, getting all kinds of treatment,” Martinez said. “Tried to put him — did all kinds of stuff. And today was just — he woke up, right away texted (pitching coach) Paul (Menhart) and said that he was really hurting.
“And if you all know Max, obviously he pitched with a broken nose, he’s been hurt before, he’s gotten through things. When he comes in and says he’s hurt this bad, he’s hurt.”
More than an hour later, Scherzer, with a bandage on his neck, addressed reporters — revealing received a cortisone shot to help with the pain. Scherzer said when he woke up in he could hardly move. The three-time Cy Young winner was in so much pain when he woke up that his wife had to help him get dressed, he added.
Scherzer said he was “disappointed as I could possibly be” that he wasn’t able to pitch.
Doctors told Scherzer that a nerve in his neck is “all jammed up,” the pitcher said. He added the cortisone shot should help relieve the pain within 48 hours, possibly making him available for Game 7.
“I can’t pick up my arm right now,” Scherzer said. “So I can’t pitch.”
The Nationals planned for Scherzer to help them in a critical game with the series tied at 2. Washington has dropped two consecutive games, seeing starters Aníbal Sánchez and Patrick Corbin struggle against the Astros’ lineup. Entering Sunday, the Nationals were 8-0 in the postseason with Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg starting — and 2-4 without.
For Game 5, the Nationals will rely on Joe Ross, a right-handed pitcher who floated between the bullpen and starting throughout the regular season. In 27 appearances — nine of which were starts — the 26-year-old went 4-4 with a career-high 5.48 ERA. He pitched 64 innings, giving up 74 hits and 39 earned runs.
Two years ago, Ross established himself as Washington’s fifth starter. But in July, he was shut down with elbow pain and underwent Tommy John surgery.
Ross appeared in two innings in Game 3, throwing 19 pitches in the 4-1 loss.
“I trust his ability to prepare,” Strasburg said. “I think that’s one thing that having some of the struggles early on in the year with him, he really took another step as far as like preparation, doing his homework, and you just take notice of those things. That’s his own journey.”
The Nationals don’t believe Scherzer’s injury is related to the 35-year-old’s back injury that landed him on the injured list twice in July. Scherzer missed a month with the injury, returning on Aug. 22 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In his eight regular-season starts after the back injury, Scherzer worked through rust. He was less sharp than normal, accruing a 4.74 ERA. But he recovered in time for the playoffs — and has been stellar in the postseason.
In five games, Scherzer posted a 2.16 ERA. He even came out of the bullpen in Game 2 of the NLDS, preserving an inning en route to Washington’s win. Asked Saturday about his back, Scherzer told reporters the issues were behind him.
But now, the Nationals will anxiously wait to see if Scherzer can recover.
“It really hurt to get out of bed,” Scherzer said. “I had to just basically fall out of bed and pick myself up with my left arm and I was moving around, just couldn’t even move my arm. I just knew at that point I was in a really bad spot.”
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