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Max Scherzer returns from IL against Rockies; goes five innings in 8-7 loss in Nationals Park

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“You don’t pitch for a couple weeks, the command is kind of off, so I kind of anticipated that coming in...” - Max Scherzer on return to the Nationals’ rotation.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Before he landed on the Injured List with what was eventually diagnosed as scapulothoracic bursitis, which cropped up after a June 30th outing in Detroit and then lingered through the All-Star Break and into the start of the second-half, Max Scherzer was on a roll, with a nine-start unbeaten streak going, over which he posted a 0.84 ERA, nine walks (1.27 BB/9), 94 Ks (13.21 K/9), and a stingy .172/.213/.263 line against in 64 innings pitched.

Scherzer was frustrated he had to miss a couple turns in the rotation, but Washington’s GM Mike Rizzo and Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez were clear throughout the process that it was a matter of waiting until their 34-year-old ace was 100% before letting him get back on the mound in a bullpen session, let alone a big-league start.

When he was cleared to pitch again, after throwing off flat ground and eventually throwing a bullpen session, the Nats’ brass decided to send him out for the finale of this week’s four-game set with the Colorado Rockies, mapping out which games that would line him up for over the rest of the season and all the way to the Wild Card game.

Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday he was confident Scherzer was back to full strength and ready to return to the rotation.

“Yeah, I think he’s 100 percent, we wouldn’t run him out there if he wasn’t,” Rizzo said.

“He’s gone through all his paces and through all the tests. That’s why we didn’t want to throw him out there haphazardly, we made him go through his preparation for a start.

“He had a full side-session and then a full bullpen and then he upped his preparation to pitch.

“He felt 100%, he feels normal and after a long bullpen on Monday, he came through it 100% and he’s scheduled to pitch Thursday and should be ready to go.”

“None of the muscles were ever strained, none of the muscles were ever, like, hurt, so I was able to keep my strength,” Scherzer told reporters before he returned.

“That’s just from all the work that you do as a pitcher every five days,” he said, “... and your scaps are such a huge part of maintaining your strength on the back side so you keep your shoulder healthy. This injury was unrelated to the actual muscles, this was bursitis, which was completely different than dealing with any type tendinitis or muscle type thing.”

Scherzer shook off some rust in his return to the Nationals’ rotation, tossing three scoreless to start before the Rockies put up three runs in the fourth (matching their run production in the first three games of the series in one inning), with Daniel Murphy doubling with one out and scoring two-out RBI single to right field by Ryan McMahon which got the Rockies on the board, 1-0, before Garrett Hampson followed up with a two-run home run to left field on a 2-1 fastball up in the zone, which made it a 3-0 game.

Scherzer held the Rockies there, and came back for a scoreless, 16-pitch fifth before he was done for the day after throwing 86 pitches total in five innings pitched.

Max Scherzer’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks, 1 HR, 86 P, 57 S, 2/1 GO/FO.

A three-run bottom of the fifth tied things up, and got Scherzer off the hook, and the Nats and Rockies went back and forth the rest of the game before Colorado came out on top to salvage the series finale after dropping the first three games in Washington.

“I felt good,” Scherzer said after the game. “I was out there, and just felt rested today. You don’t pitch for a couple weeks, the command is kind of off, so I kind of anticipated that coming in and just tried to figure out what I was going to be able to execute today. So for me, I’m more concerned about with the back tomorrow.

“When that onset came on the next day, so I won’t know anything until tomorrow.”

“He threw the ball well,” Martinez said. “He was Max. He left a couple balls up, but I thought he threw the ball really well.”

They lifted him when they did, Martinez explained, because they saw signs of fatigued, but also because he was close to the pitch total they discussed going into the outing after he’d been out a few weeks.

“We had Max 85-90 pitches today,” he explained, “and it was perfect, he got I think 87, and he was leading off the inning, so I thought it was a perfect time to get him out. So, we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”