Nationals turn to Max Scherzer with their season on the brink

Todd Dybas
NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- Remember the times they were done? Back in May, when down six runs in the ninth against the Mets, when leads were tight in September, when Milwaukee sent Josh Hader to the mound in the eighth. Well, here's another hole, a situation now as familiar as a sunrise or 5 p.m. traffic snarl. 

Recuperation has been a central theme for the Nationals in 2019. From 19-31, to clinching a postseason spot once the division was out of reach, to rallying in the Wild-Card Game. 

The need for a rally arrives again since Washington trails its best-of-five National League Division Series with the Dodgers 2-1 after Sunday night's bludgeoning. Max Scherzer is on the mound Monday. Rich Hill pitches for the Dodgers. Washington is guaranteed just 27 more outs. A flight or cleaning boxes will come Tuesday. 

"All hands on deck [Monday]," Davey Martinez said. "We are going to come out, we're going to fight and those guys know what we're playing for and we want to go to L.A. That's all this means. I told them that's all this means, we would have to go to L.A. again."

To fly another 2,700 miles, the Nationals will need to defeat tension, Hill and their own roster issues. The series started with a clear necessity to stay away from the middle of the bullpen. It moves into an elimination game with fewer tricks to do so.

Patrick Corbin's combustible Sunday outing extracted him from a Monday contribution. Stephen Strasburg, who pitched in relief in the Wild-Card Game, is Wednesday's starter. Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson are rested. So, Martinez's previous plan of revolving starters in and out of the bullpen has run its course. Scherzer did it, now he has to start. Corbin did it, the gamble crumbled. Strasburg did it in the Wild-Card Game, but if he works Monday no one is left for Wednesday. There's no escape from the season-long hole the middle of the bullpen has created.

Which puts more emphasis on Scherzer's pitch count. He expects to be fully rebooted. Anyone watching should anticipate Martinez pushing him as far as possible. Can he make it through the seventh inning to leave Doolittle and Hudson with just six outs? 

"I don't even know what the number is right now," Scherzer said of his possible pitch count. "That's kind of out the door. It's just how you feel and communicate with the coaches on what you think you can do and stay within yourself and communicate where you're at."

The Dodgers are not quite as set. Hill is expected to pitch around four innings. Closer Kenley Jansen is available after throwing just nine pitches Sunday. His appearance was merely a chance to return to the mound. Jansen had not pitched since Sept. 28.

Los Angeles needs to 12 outs in between if its bookend options go as planned. Left-handed specialist Adam Kolarek will attempt to record one when he faces Juan Soto. The other 11? Kenta Maeda, who threw just five pitches to record two outs Sunday, should be back for up to an inning. Dave Roberts will have to determine if he trusts Pedro Baez. He can mix-and-match for the remainder. Walker Buehler sits waiting to start Game 5 at home if it comes to that.

Washington's players expressed calm postgame Sunday. Howie Kendrick boiled down the task ahead to clich├ęs and basics. Kurt Suzuki spoke about the Nationals' prior paths from recovery. Sean Doolittle pointed to who will be on the mound. 

"I think we're really comfortable right now, even though our backs are against the wall," Doolittle said. "We got Max going [Monday] and Stras going after him. We kind of feel like -- we've played a lot of must-win games here the last couple months of the season. We've had our backs against the wall before. Coming in here, looking at guys, talking to guys, nobody's panicking. There's going to be a sense of urgency [Monday], of course. We're at home. We've played really, really well at home to close out the season and so far into the postseason as well. Anytime you've got Max going, you feel good about it."

Who remains to start is one of the few positive notions the Nationals can cling to. The idea is joined by resuscitation in previous months to further bolster hope. Projections say the Nationals have a 50-50 shot to win the game. They have handled worse, but did so with much more wiggle room.


Nationals turn to Max Scherzer with their season on the brink originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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