WASHINGTON — The common refrain for starting a pitcher on six days rest is that the team “gave him an extra day’s rest.” But when a player is as competitive as Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, those decisions don’t come lightly.
On Saturday, the Nats announced a change to their probable pitching chart, bumping Scherzer (15-7, 2.89 ERA) from the Sunday finale to the Monday opener against the Atlanta Braves.
In talking to the media about the move, Scherzer revealed that he was only interested in the extra rest if it didn’t cost him a chance to reach 34 starts. That’s the maximum number of games for most pitchers operating in a five-man rotation, and it’s a mark that Scherzer has not yet reached.
“If they also want to give me an extra day of rest without hurting the team at all, I completely get their decision,” he told the media before the game. “I get it. As long as I don’t lose a start, and Mad Dog (Nats pitching coach Mike Maddux) mapped it out and said I wouldn’t lose a start even if I get an extra day right now.
“So I’m not fighting him.”
In his place, the Nats have recalled Reynaldo Lopez (2-2, 5.33 ERA) from AAA Syracuse to make his sixth start of the season on Sunday. This will be the first start of his career against the New York Mets, while Scherzer will return to Washington early.
Scherzer is pitching at the top of his game right now, going 7-2 with a 2.07 ERA in 12 outings, over the last two months. He currently leads all of baseball with 28 starts, 190 innings pitched, 238 strikeouts and a 0.911 WHIP.
He is considered the Vegas odds-on favorite to win the National League Cy Young award, which makes his performance down the stretch critical for personal and team reasons.
The good news for all parties is that Scherzer’s arm remains rubber, and the goal of extra rest was not to address injury or fatigue.
“I mean, you would love for Max to pitch against the Mets,” manager Dusty Baker explained to the media. “But we felt the extra day was more important than Max pitching here.”
“I feel good,” Scherzer said. “My shoulder and elbow, they all feel great. At this point of the year, where I’m at physically, I can take on extra workload. This is why you work hard the whole season: So at the end, you can shoulder even more workload if you need to. And I’m physically at that point where I can. If they choose to do that, that’s great.
“This is why you work hard the whole season: So at the end, you can shoulder even more workload if you need to. And I’m physically at that point where I can. If they choose to do that, that’s great.”