Dusty Baker told reporters on Saturday morning that he wasn’t sure what Washington would get from Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer in his return to the mound in NLDS Game 3 this afternoon.
“We'll see, you know, how deep he can go,” Baker said. “That's the question on anybody that's kind of semi-injured, is, you know, when they fatigue, are they strong enough to battle through whatever is bothering them. So we'll see.”
Scherzer tweaked his right hamstring in his final regular season start and the Nationals pushed him from a likely Game 1 appearance against Chicago in D.C. to this afternoon’s outing opposite the Cubs in Wrigley Field.
Scherzer talked to reporters in his pre-start press conference on Sunday about the process of getting back on the mound.
“It was a process of going through every scenario and weighing the risk versus reward of, you know, knowing that I probably wasn't going to be able to pitch Game 1,” he said.
“And then looking at the schedule here for five games, and knowing that [Stephen] Strasburg could pitch 1 and 5; that by pitching Game 3, that gives us a couple extra days to build extra strength into my leg, which I needed, and also provides the possibility that if you do pitch Game 3, that you could be in relief for Game 5, if need be.
“So we kind of ran down every scenario of what a five-game series looks like and tried to make the best decision possible for the club.”
Baker talked about what he’d be watching for when Scherzer takes the mound to see that the 33-year-old right-hander, who finished the regular season (16-6) with a 2.51 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 55 walks (2.47 BB/9), 268 Ks (12.02 K/9) and a .177/.247/.319 line against over 33 starts and 200 2⁄3 innings, is healthy and able to compete on the mound.
“I'm going to be looking for any difference of change of arm angles or if he winces or whatever,” Baker explained.
“There are a lot of guys that are pitching hurt right now, you know. There's a difference between being injured and hurt, and if you haven't -- if you don't have something wrong with you, then you haven't played. You haven't pitched. It's almost impossible to go a whole year and nothing be wrong with you.
“I can recall when I played that, you know, I was almost in a panic if I felt too good. If something wasn't wrong, I was like, man, this isn't right, because this time of the year, everybody has something. But we just have to keep an eye on him and you don't want him to favor that and end up hurting his arm or something. You know, his career is primary to any of this.”
“The most important thing is how you can deliver the ball and making sure that you stay through the ball because if that -- if anything happens at the release point, that's when -- I've gotten pretty good about feeling if the release point is different,” Scherzer said, in discussing how he’d monitor things himself and do what he could to be honest with his manager, coaches, and trainers about how he’s feeling.
“If there's anything different in that release point, really, you're putting yourself at risk of seriously injuring your elbow or shoulder.
“But if you can stay through your release point, then you're good to go. And I've had several injuries that I didn't think I could pitch, but I was able to stay through the release point. That knowledge of knowing, feeling your body at different points of ailments, that's allowed my communication to be as good as possible with my managers and trainers.”
Scherzer said the work the last week-plus has been to strengthen the weakness they identified in his hamstring, and the hope is that they did enough to get him through this start and then go from there.
“I think I'm very confident as soon as I toe the rubber that, hey, I'm going to be good on pitch one; it's how long can I go without re-injuring this,” he said.
“That's where we've done everything we can to make sure that I can throw a hundred pitches and not have this happen. When I get on the mound tomorrow, I'm fully anticipating being able to throw a hundred pitches.”
“We've done everything we can to get this thing right,” Scherzer added.
“And you know, out there playing catch today, if I stay within my mechanics and throw the ball right, I fully intend to throw a hundred pitches tomorrow.”
In his one start against Chicago this season, Scherzer held the Cubs to one run on two hits in six innings in what ended up a 6-1 win in Washington. This afternoon, the right-hander takes on the defending World Series champs on the road in Wrigley.
“This is going to be a crazy atmosphere here at Wrigley,” Scherzer said. “I can't wait to toe the rubber.”
As for what particular challenges the Cubs’ hitters pose? Without giving anything away, the Nationals’ ace shared his thinking heading into the outing.
“Without tipping my hand, I think the obvious is there,” he said. “We've seen where they have got -- where they produce most of their runs. Their top of the order is as good as anybody in baseball. It's going to be just going out there -- it's playoffs.
“Anybody can beat anybody. Any player can take you deep at any moment in today's ballgame. You just have to go out there and execute pitches.
“There's really no secret to this; that everybody's -- they are going to have a game plan against me and I'm going to have a game plan against them. It just comes down to execution. If I can execute pitches and keep the ball out of the middle of the plate, I know I can have success. But if I make mistakes, I know they can take me deep. That's the game.”