Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer’s start shows red flags

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May 20, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
May 20, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /
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An unusual outing for Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer makes you wonder if it was a bad Saturday or if he is hurt. Here is why.

Saturday was not a banner day for Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

Although the right-hander did not pitch poorly in the Nats 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves, Scherzer was not himself. Over five innings, before a lengthy rain delay knocked him out, he threw a messy 106 pitches for a low 62 strikes.

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Normally one to pound the strike zone, Scherzer’s misses were pronounced. Either he was high upstairs with pitches or well inside as several right-handed hitters jumped out of the way.

One of the more animated players on the Nationals, Scherzer rarely walked around after pitches. Instead, he licked a finger and got back on the hill.

This was Scherzer’s shortest stint of the year. His three walks matched a season-high set his last start in Atlanta while his six strikeouts are a season low. As usual, in nine starts nine balls left the yard. Saturday marked the fourth time he allowed three or more earned runs.

Workload—along with the rest of the rotation—may be an issue. Going into the weekend, of the top six pitchers in average pitches-per-game, four were Nats. Since then, Gio Gonzalez tossed 116 and Scherzer struggled again.

In his nine starts, his pitch count total is 956 or 106.2 a game. By inning, the number is 16.02. Ideally, you want the figure to be closer to 15. Remember, he still is recovering from a stress fracture of his right ring-finger knuckle from last year. Although he can grip his four-seam fastball as usual, it is a repetitive stress injury.

Also on Mother’s Day, Scherzer took a 100-mph liner off the back of his left knee in Philadelphia. Writhing in pain on the grass after, the first thought was how long will he be injured for. Instead, like the hero of an old western with a shot of whiskey and biting a bullet during surgery, he soldiered on and stalked the mound.

Scherzer will never admit to injury or fatigue. His finger issue did not turn up until December because the normal aches and pains in his hand did not go away. With the bullpen showing no signs of improvement, Dusty Baker relies more on his starters. Since Scherzer demands the ball only leaves his cold dead hand, he is not cutting the pitch count.

Still, his next start at home against the San Diego Padres is worth watching. Will his fastball regain velocity? Most of Saturday’s were around 94 and not the 96-97 we are used to. Will he throw strikes? His 62 were the second-lowest total of the year and his worst strike percentage of the season.

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Already with little margin of error in depth, Scherzer cannot hit the disabled list for long if Washington hopes to win a championship. Hopefully, Saturday was a blip and not a concern.

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