WASHINGTON — “We really haven’t decided, exactly,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker told the media. “We have a couple days to decide.”
Even if the Nats haven’t decided who will start Game 1 of the National League Division Series, they are hedging their bets that injured ace Max Scherzer (hamstring) will be ready to go. On Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg took the bullpen while the team practiced, a move that puts him in line to start Friday on schedule.
“Stras threw a ‘pen. Max is supposed to throw one, hopefully, tomorrow,” Baker said. “We’ll see. And then we will make a determination sometime prior to game time.”
But don’t expect this decision to remain a secret until game time. Starters typically address the media the day before, which gives the Nats a pomp and circumstance deadline of Thursday.
Washington Post beat reporter Chelsea Janes noted that Strasburg declined to address the media on Tuesday. The Nationals told her that all starters would address the media before they started.
Scherzer isn’t yielding anything yet, noting after he sustained the injury on Saturday that he would likely have pitched through the injury if it occurred during the playoffs.
He left no question on the matter of whether he was available for the NLDS.
“Oh, I’m pitching in the NLDS,” Scherzer said with a chuckle. “I’m pitching in the NLDS.”
An MRI on Saturday night revealed it to be a “slightly tweaked” right hamstring and not a serious cause for concern. Scherzer tested the hamstring by running on it, feeling nothing.
Ironically, it only hurts him when he brings the heat, throwing as hard as he’s accustomed to.
“That’s where I said this is confusing because it only shows itself when I’m actually throwing a baseball near 100 percent,” Scherzer told the media. “That’s where we’re trying to do everything we can to treat it and strengthen it and do everything we can to make sure when I do get off a mound and when I’m pitching, that this is going to hold.”
Such uncertainty will almost certainly affect the team’s NLDS round roster, with at least one starter likely to be in place to cover for Scherzer in case the injury treatment doesn’t hold.
If Scherzer pitches Game 1 or 2, he would be available to pitch twice in the series, with regular rest between Games 2 and 5. It would also give him a critical extra day of treatment on the front end.
Regardless of whether he starts Game 1 or Game 2, expect this to be a decision that goes down to the wire.