- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2019

With how well the Washington Nationals have played over the last six weeks, one might wonder if the ballclub would prefer to keep playing instead of taking time off for the All-Star break. The Nationals have won 28 of their last 39 games and have gained considerable ground in the standings.

But as it turns out, the break might be coming at a good time for the Nationals.

Beyond Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer — Washington’s two All-Stars who withdrew from Tuesday’s All-Star Game because of injuries — the Nationals have other players who stand to benefit from the league’s four-day break.

Closer Sean Doolittle has had a heavy workload for most of the season, which has affected his performance of late. Shortstop Trea Turner, too, has started 46 straight games since coming off the injured list with a broken right index finger. Juan Soto hasn’t missed a game since May 10, the day before the second-year star returned from back spasms.

“As well as we’ve played, part of us wants to keep going but I think we got a bunch of guys that are little banged up, maybe playing through some stuff right now,” Doolittle said after Washington’s 5-2 win Sunday over the Kansas City Royals. “For the schedule that we have to start the second half, it’s a good time for a break so everybody can kind of regroup and recharge and be ready to go for the second half.”

Rendon, for instance, has been playing through hamstring tightness since June. The 29-year-old third baseman told reporters last week he wanted to rest, so he could be a “big threat” after the break. Hitting .304 this season, Rendon has appeared in 75 of 89 games this year — missing a stretch with an elbow contusion.

Scherzer, too, said he needed the rest after dealing with back tightness in each of his last two starts. In Scherzer’s case, the three-time Cy Young winner will have eight full days off between starts, as he’s scheduled to start Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals, on the other hand, return Friday.

As a whole, Washington has heavily relied upon its starting rotation this season. Scherzer leads the National League in innings pitched with 129 ⅓ while Stephen Strasburg (fifth at 113 ⅓) and Patrick Corbin (sixth at 113 ⅓) aren’t far behind.

Those three regularly surpass the 100-pitch marker, as well. Based on a combined 55 starts, Washington’s three top pitchers have thrown at least 100 pitches on 39 occasions. Scherzer leads that pack, doing so in 16 of his 19 starts.

Washington’s starters have helped overcome a bullpen that has still been shaky even as the team has piled up wins. Since May 24, the beginning of Washington’s turnaround, the Nationals‘ bullpen has a 4.86 ERA — 18th-best in the majors. The Nationals will need their starters healthy to continue to help relieve pressure off the bullpen moving forward.

When the Nationals do return from the All-Star break, manager Dave Martinez said he hopes his team will be “good to go” in terms of their various injuries. Martinez also mentioned that he could start resting players more regularly in August, but will continue to monitor each player’s workload.

Martinez, though, thinks the rest will be beneficial.

“We have an opportunity to keep going,” Martinez said. “I’ve said this before … but when you look back as a player, you never say ‘Oh man, I hit .300 before the All-Star break.’ No, you look at the big picture which is at the end of the year.

“Let’s be mindful that we’re playing good, but we still have a long way to go.”

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