Posted on July 26, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Washington Nationals Max Scherzer
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Just one day after returning form the Injured List, Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer is once again questionable to make his next start. Scherzer started Thursday against the Rockies following a brief stint on the IL due to a sore back. However, he woke up Friday morning with more back pain, creating more uncertainty about his status heading down the stretch.

Scherzer said he felt good but rusty following Thursday’s start. He got a no-decision in Washington’s loss, giving up three runs on four hits over five innings. However, he admitted the real test would come Friday morning. Unfortunately, it appears Scherzer failed that test. After feeling sore when he woke up, Scherzer underwent an MRI that showed a mild strain of the rhomboid muscle in his upper back.

Following the MRI, Scherzer received a stem cell injection to help with the pain and aid in his recovery. He will abstain from throwing for two days before re-evaluated. Scherzer is in line to start Tuesday against the Braves, the team Washington is chasing in the NL East. But after getting the injection, it’s still up in the air if Scherzer will make that start or if he might require another stint on the IL.

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“We’ve got to be smart,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Friday. “Let’s just get you right. When you’re right, you’re one of the best.”

Scherzer was quietly confident on Friday that he’ll make his next start. He says he’s received stem cell injections before and was able to pitch a few days later. However, Scherzer went nearly three weeks between starts prior to Thursday. The fact that an MRI revealed an issue on Friday indicates that the 34-year-old could be dealing with this for the rest of the season.

The Nationals are also at a point in the season when every game matters. Not only do they need Scherzer to take the mound every five days, but they also need him to be at his best. He admitted he wasn’t as sharp as he’s like after the layoff. If he continues to need extra time between starts, it could be hard for him to get back on track.

Prior to his stint on the IL earlier this month, Scherzer was at his best. He had won seven starts in a row, posting a 0.87 ERA during that span. That’s the Scherzer the Nationals need pitching down the stretch. On the season, the three-time Cy Young winner is 9-5 with a 2.41 ERA and leads the big leagues in strikeouts.

The good news is that the Nationals don’t have to scramble to find rotation help before the trade deadline. Even with Scherzer battling back issues, the Nationals still have Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin to lead the rotation. Anibal Sanchez has also been solid all season, giving Washington’s rotation plenty of depth despite Scherzer struggling with back issues.

However, given the poor performance from their bullpen this season, the Nationals need their rotation to carry them the second half of the season. That means having a workhorse like Scherzer who has pitched at least seven innings in 12 of his 20 starts this year. The Nationals currently hold the second Wild Card spot in the National League and are 4.5 games behind Atlanta in the NL East. But if Scherzer is anything less than his best over the next two months, Washington’s playoff chances will take a major hit.

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