WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals have had some of the best starting pitching in baseball this season, even while weathering injuries to Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
But with time running out to get players healthy, skipper Dusty Baker is committing to a strategy that limits innings and gets his staff ready for the postseason.
“We have to get them all back first,” Baker told the media. “Get them back first. That’s the No. 1 thing. In the case of Max [Scherzer], we got to get Max back and have him stay on his regular turn without anything else happening. We got to get our regular guys back.”
Scherzer has been out since Aug. 15 when he suffered a back/neck injury for the second time since the All-Star break. He was eligible and expected to return from the injury and make the start on Friday, but he is now likely to be replaced by A.J. Cole.
Until a move is officially made, the Nats have a rotation of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Edwin Jackson. Baker’s plan is intended to limit pitch counts and adds in additional starters to eat up innings over the next month.
According to MASN Sports, Nationals starting pitchers have thrown 115 or more pitches in a game 11 times this season, which leads MLB. Gonzalez threw more than 120 in his last start, Sunday, which is why he will be pushed to Saturday for an extra day off.
“We wanted to give him an extra day. We thought it was a good idea,” Baker said. “Because he went like 90 pitches the time before that and then the other day he went a heavy load and then backing him back down again. Hopefully, he can have a much lesser work load this time.”
Baker has a reputation for riding the hot hand at pitcher, which can be tempting with Strasburg and Gonzalez pitching well. He sounds ready, however, to show restraint.
One complicating factor will be the team’s schedule. With four games scheduled for this weekend and 18 games between now and the next off day (Sept. 11), there is little room for error or injury. Baker says that all of that is being taken into account.
“I’ve been talking to guys seeing who’s kind of fatigued. Seeing how we can give them a rest and still have a pretty good lineup out there to win because that’s a delicate balancing act at this time of the year,” he explained. “When you are balancing between keeping guys strong, keeping them rested, and also you want them to be sharp but you got to keep your other guys involved and win the ball game.
“The scheduling is not in our favor, at least over this weekend.”
A bright spot comes on September 1, when rosters expand from 25 to the full 40-man units. Baker will be able to carry extra starters, like Cole, who could help give starters an extra day of rest or a long arm out of the bullpen.