TODAY: Nationals GM Mike Rizzo told reporters (including Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post) that he is “reasonably confident” Scherzer will come off the injured list this week. As Dougherty notes, this projection carries some extra weight coming from Rizzo, who “is usually resistant to putting even loose timelines on injuries.”
FRIDAY: The Nats’ mid-season revival has been driven by exceptional starting pitching — particularly from the ever-dependable Max Scherzer. His unholy tear through the rest of the league was halted only by an unfortunate back issue that has cropped up, forcing a recent injured-list placement.
Scherzer provided an update today to reporters including Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). What had been believed to be a mid-back strain is in fact an inflamed bursa sac in his back/shoulder area (formally, “scapulothoracic bursitis”). He’s throwing off flat ground while waiting for a cortisone shot to take effect.
It’s clear at this point that Scherzer will not pitch before the weekend is out. But he suggests that he ought to be ready to go in relatively short order thereafter. It’ll all depend upon the efficacy and speed of the treatment. Much as the Nats would love to have him back on the bump right away, they’ll need to be cautious of avoiding a larger problem.
It’s more or less impossible to overstate just how good Scherzer has been of late. Since the start of June, he has made seven starts, over which he has allowed just five earned runs on 29 hits in 52 innings. Scherzer has compiled an absurd 79:6 K/BB ratio in that span.
Even if he never threw another pitch in D.C., Scherzer’s blockbuster free agent contract would go down as a huge success. He has already thrown over one thousand innings of 2.65 ERA ball for the Nats, racking up over thirty wins above replacement in less than five full seasons. That he remains an outstanding pitcher with appealing (albeit not inexpensive) remaining guaranteed seasons is testimony to how unusually well that deal has turned out for the team.
As talented and driven as Scherzer is, no small portion of his value is connected to his ability to stay in good health. That has allowed him not only to fill up innings, but to do so at top speed. If the Nats are to chase down the Braves, or otherwise make noise in the postseason by entering through the Wild Card, they’ll need their ace in all his furious glory.
It goes without saying that Scherzer is irreplaceable. But the Nats may need to find another rotation piece over the next twelve days, particularly if there’s any concern that they may need to go a stretch without Scherzer. At present, Austin Voth and Erick Fedde account for the fifth rotation spot. Relying on those hurlers, with scant 40-man depth otherwise (Kyle McGowin, Joe Ross), would be dangerous. There’s no indication that Jeremy Hellickson is going to be an option at any point in the near future.
We already know the Nats will be looking for bullpen arms. But it’ll be interesting to see whether and how they approach the starting pitching market. Perhaps a swingman type would make sense as a partial hedge against a rotation need, without putting too many resources into a spot that may not need to be fully addressed.