Max Scherzer left an August 1st start in Miami with spasms in the right side of his neck, but he returned for back-to-back seven-inning outings, showing no signs of a lingering issue.
Scherzer was scratched, and later placed on the 10-Day DL, retroactive to August 13th, with was described by the Nationals as “left neck inflammation”.
“It’s the same situation,” Baker told reporters before the second of four for the Nats with the Padres.
“It’s his neck, but it’s the other the side,” Baker explained. “And so we’re just taking the cautious route, and hopefully we’ll find out kind of what’s causing this, cause it moved from one to the other side, and so that’s the word right now and hopefully he’ll be out there to make his next start.”
Baker said Scherzer arriving at the park earlier this afternoon, a break from his usual pre-start regimen, was the first sign that something wasn’t right.
“I knew something was wrong, because usually he’s not here as early as he was here,” Baker said.
“On days he’s pitching, he usually shows up just a little bit later, but he was here when I got here, so that showed me that either he’s changed his program or something is wrong.”
Baker was asked if he was worried at this point, now that the issue has cropped back up.
“Concern,” he said, “but worrying is not going to change it.
“Now, once you know a problem, then you have try to find a solution. If we had a solution, we’d have found it already, but this just came up, so again, we’ll just try to find a solution for what’s causing this so it doesn’t happen again.”
With Scherzer unable to go, the Nationals turned to lefty reliever Matt Grace, who’s used to giving them a few innings out of the bullpen. Baker said that’s all he wanted from the left-hander tonight.
“Ordinarily Gracey has gone — it depends if he throws up a lot of ground balls, double plays, and hopefully he can get a lot of two outs with one pitch, to minimize his pitches, but historically, I think the longest he’s gone is three.”
Grace retired the first six batters he faced before giving up a leadoff single by Padres’ catcher Austin Hedges in the home-half of the third inning, but he stranded the first runner of the game for San Diego at second, completing three scoreless on 33 pitches.
Carlos Asuaje singled up the middle to start the fourth, and Grace walked right fielder Jose Pirela in the next at bat, and he was up to 45 pitches, but he got a double play grounder out of Yangervis Solarte with his 46th pitch, and with a runner on third and two out, Andrew Stevenson sprinted to the gap and made an awkward catch on a Wil Myers liner to end Grace’s fourth scoreless. 49 pitches total.
He came back out to record the first out of the fifth before he was done for the night.
• Matt Grace’s Line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 52 P, 32 S, 7/2 GO/FO.
Baker pieced together the rest of the game, with Shawn Kelley, Joe Blanton, Oliver Perez, Matt Albers, and Sammy Solis getting the Nationals through what ended up being a 7-1 win.
“They did a great job, and things just sort of worked out,” Baker told reporters after the second win in a row in Petco.
“We liked the matchups that we had after — especially after Gracey,” he said.
“We were thinking that he might go three innings, maybe, but he threw a couple double plays, which saved his pitch count, which I was hoping for before the game.”
Baker was asked if in the end things worked out about how he’d planned it.
“It came out pretty close, and then not only that, Gracey saved my bullpen where I could go one inning, or a fraction of an inning, and so with [Stephen Strasburg] -- not knowing how he’s going to do tomorrow -- that worked out perfectly and we still got a couple fresh guys that we didn’t use.
“Hopefully everybody should be available tomorrow as well.”
Grace came up big for the Nationals on a night when he didn’t even know he would have to start before batting practice.
“He’s a guy that’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do,” Baker said. “You see he started, he’s gone long, he’s gone middle. He’s gone short. Basically keeps the ball in the ballpark. He throws ground balls, he throws strikes, and he’s getting better, and so he has pitched his way onto the team and he’s doing a great job.”
As for Scherzer, and the decision to place the right-hander on the Disabled List?
“You certainly don’t want this thing to linger, and we’re trying to find out why,” Baker said.
“Because it went from one side of the neck to the other. I think that’s probably a positive sign, because if it was just on one side then you would really, really be apprehensive, but Max wasn’t crazy about it, but he understood it, because nobody wants to go on the DL, especially your first time on the DL, it’s his first time in his career going on the DL. But he understood what we needed and had to do for the team, and Max is certainly a team guy and he realized it was for the betterment for the team and his own health.”