- - Monday, September 30, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There were questions raised when Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez came out Friday and named Max Scherzer his starter for Tuesday night’s wild card game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

After all, he had options — one in particular was the one-time face of promise for this franchise, Stephen Strasburg — a Cy Young candidate after a career year.

Strasburg had great numbers — 18 wins and 6 losses, 3.32 ERA in 33 starts, 251 strikeouts in 209 innings. He comes into the postseason having given up just eight earned runs in his last 30 innings.

But inside the Nationals clubhouse, there was no debate over the decision: If Scherzer is healthy enough to pitch, he gets the ball for the biggest game Washington has played so far this season.

Scherzer — 11-7, 2.92 ERA in 27 starts, 243 strikeouts in 172.1 innings — missed a month of the season with shoulder and back ailments and had a rocky finish, surrendering 17 earned runs in his last 29.2 innings.



Not exactly a hot hand.

So why are the Nationals so confident Martinez made the right call?

Think of it like the Jimmy Chitwood situation from “Hoosiers” — Scherzer’s teammates expect him to be the guy. In a winner-take-all moment, they want him out there. He is the alpha dog in the clubhouse, one of the leaders of this team with a fiery competitive streak that makes it near-impossible to picture him sitting and watching, were someone else handed this opportunity.

Teammates won’t say it publicly, out of respect to Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, Washington’s other powerful starting pitchers. But this is Scherzer’s team.

Max has been the ace here for several years,” Howie Kendrick said. “His resume speaks for itself. Now Strasburg had a great year, and we have other guys who could do it. And remember, it may be the guy who finishes who is the most important — like we had with the (Los Angeles) Dodgers when (Clayton) Kershaw came in the game in relief (to close out Game 5 of the 2016 National League Division Series against Washington).”

Yes, in a wild card game — postseason madness — the starting pitchers may be long forgotten by the end of the night. But for now, Scherzer is the man Martinez picked to hold his team’s hopes and dreams in the palm of his right hand.

The manager, for his part, cautioned against reading too much into his choice.

“For me it didn’t matter if it was him or Strasburg, they (his teammates) appreciate them both the same. For me, it was knowing that Max was ready. He had a week off, his last outing he threw well and wanted to go back out there. That tells me he feels strong and everything is back to normal.”

So the Nationals have their man, but the thing is, their man isn’t exactly the Paul Bunyan of postseason baseball. Scherzer’s been good, and he’s been bad.

In four American League Division Series with Detroit, Scherzer went 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA, but 1-2 with 4.61 ERA in three AL Championship Series — his most famous being the 11 hits and nine runs he gave up in 8.1 innings in a 2011 loss to the Texas Rangers.

That was before he became Mad Max, the three-time Cy Young winner and one of the most feared pitchers in baseball during his five years in Washington.

But even here, his postseason numbers, don’t mesh with the madness — eight earned runs and 14 hits in 19.1 innings pitched. Of course, that includes that bizarre Game 5 against the Chicago Cubs when Scherzer came into the game in relief, and, after getting two outs, surrendered four runs on three straight two-out hits, an intentional walk, a disputed passed ball strikeout, catcher’s interference and a hit batter.

Even with that memory forever seared into Nationals history, is there anyone else fans would rather see on the mound for Washington Tuesday night?

“I put myself in this position to be ready to be able to give whatever I need to the team tomorrow,” Scherzer told reporters Monday, all business. “My arm has responded. I feel like I can pitch deep into the game. Tomorrow, however long Davey will let me pitch, I’ll pitch.”

When you’re the alpha, that’s what’s expected.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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