Nationals and Scherzer made right decision

Max Scherzer is 10-7 with a 2.11 ERA in 18 starts this season for the Washington Nationals. He has struck out 150 hitters in 132.0 innings of work, and has allowed just a .185 batting average. Scherzer leads the National League in complete games and shutouts. Over a three-start span in June, he took a no-hitter into the seventh and struck out 16 Milwaukee Brewers, came within a strike of a perfect game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and capped it all off with five more perfect innings before allowing a hit to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Despite everything he has done in 2015, Max Scherzer will not throw a single pitch in this Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

That is because Scherzer dominated the Baltimore Orioles over 8.2 innings this afternoon. The only runs he allowed came on Adam Jones‘ solo home runs in the first and ninth innings. Between the solo shots, Scherzer was utterly dominant, allowing only two more baserunners, striking out seven, and walking none.

Knowing that I had tickets to this afternoon’s game, I had carefully watched the probable pitchers all week. The Orioles were slated to face TBD until late yesterday afternoon. With Scherzer nearly everyone’s first choice to start the All-Star Game for the National League, the Nationals organization and Scherzer waited until the last possible second to make their decision, and they made the right one. No fault could have been given to Scherzer or the Nationals had the decision been made to hold him out, but in the end, what was best for the player and the team had to be put first.

This Sunday’s game was Scherzer’s normal turn in the rotation. The only reason a question existed regarding whether he would take his regularly scheduled turn was due to the flexibility in the Nationals’ rotation created by a rain-out on Wednesday and an off-day on Thursday. In Scherzer’s last outing, Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds, he struggled through his shortest start of the season, allowing five runs in 4.2 innings. It was the first time he failed to reach the eighth inning since June 9.

Scherzer wanted the ball on Sunday, and he fought manager Matt Williams all the way to the end against the Orioles. Despite throwing 115 pitches and bringing the tying run to the plate after allowing Jones’ second home run, Scherzer nearly refused to hand off the ball. Scherzer needed a start like this to get the bad taste of a poor outing earlier in the week out of his mouth, and he more than accomplished that with his performance against the Orioles.

If Scherzer had elected not to pitch this weekend, he likely would have started the first game of the second half next Friday. With the All-Star start serving as nothing more than a glorified side session for him, Scherzer would have gone what amounts to two full turns of the rotation without a start. For a pitcher like Scherzer who thrives on getting into a rhythm and pounding the strike zone, that could have been less than desirable, especially coming off a poor start.

The decision to start Scherzer on Sunday was likely a collective decision between the player and management. For Scherzer, starting the All-Star Game would have been a great personal achievement, but he already has his no-hitter, a Cy Young award, three All-Star appearances, and a nice $210 million contract. His job is to start games for the Washington Nationals, a team that had lost three of four, had seen their lead in the division cut to just two games, and was badly in need of a series victory over their Beltway rivals. By taking his normal turn in the rotation, Scherzer and the Nationals will maximize the number of appearances he makes this season without possibly having to shuffle their rotation down the stretch. With the All-Star break, he will still get plenty of rest, and should start the opener to the second half next Friday.

Would it have been great for Major League Baseball for a national audience to see Max Scherzer pitch on Tuesday night? Probably. Is that the best thing for the Washington Nationals and Scherzer himself? Probably not. Personal accomplishment and accolades do not necessarily have to take a back seat to the good of the team, but in this case, too many signs pointed to holding Max Scherzer out of the All-Star Game. Scherzer will still get to go to Cincinnati and enjoy the experience of the game, but more importantly, he has set himself up to come out guns blazing the rest of the season.

The All-Star Game remains an exhibition game despite what the higher-ups at Fox and the league tell us. For the Nationals and Max Scherzer, that meant doing what was best for them, not the league, and the correct decision was made on all sides.

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