About an hour before first pitch, word came that Max Scherzer was scratched and put on the 10-day DL with a neck injury. Dusty Baker went to Plan B which was 9 innings of bullpen work to get it done, and oh did they get it done. The Nats used 6 of their 8 bullpen arms to hold the Padres to just 1-run with some very good pitching and some tremendous defense that included home run robbery and some slick doubleplays and catches in the gap.
In the process of holding a 7-1 lead, Dusty Baker did not have to use the back of his bullpen saving the arms of Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle. The usage of the Nats bullpen and their pitch efficiency also kept all of the Nats bullpen arms at 15-pitches or less except for Matt Grace who certainly “took one for his team” going 4 1/3 innings and throwing 52 pitches.
“Gracie saved my bullpen to where I could just go 1 inning or a fraction of an inning,” Dusty Baker said. “That worked out perfectly, and we still have a couple fresh guys that we didn’t use. Hopefully everybody should be available tomorrow as well.”
The offense started the game with a Howie Kendrick lead-off home run and the offense kept going until they scored 7 runs with all Nats starting position players getting at least one hit except for Matt Wieters. The positive impact of Wieters was felt on the basepaths — yes, the basepaths. Wieters scored the second run of the game based on hustle. It all started when the Nats starting catcher beat-out an almost certain doubleplay ball and was safe at first base. He then hustled to second base on a groundball in the hole by Michael Taylor and the Padres shortstop threw the ball away and Wieters got back on his feet after his slide at second base and motored around third base and was sent home by third base coach Bobby Henley and Matt lumbered home and scored!
Andrew Stevenson‘s impact was once again felt with the glove with some great plays in rightfield, and in this game Stevenson would also use his speed to steal 2nd base and take an extra base on an error. That allowed Dusty Baker to insert Alejandro De Aza for a pinch-hitting opportunity and De Aza turned on a fastball and sent it deep to centerfield (video here) which scored Stevenson. The official scorer ruled it an error which didn’t seem fair, but at least De Aza got the RBI as it was a sacrifice fly at the very least.
Matt Grace went 4 1/3 innings of shutout baseball as he started the game and was informed he was starting about the time BP began. Yes, he was helped by a Michael Taylor catch above the centerfield wall to rob a home run and some other great defense, but credit to Grace who threw 52 pitches on the evening. Grace had never gone more than 2 2/3 innings before in his career and was able to do it with an efficient pitch count. On August 1st for instance, Grace went only 2 2/3 innings while throwing a career high 53 pitches. The only reliever who gave up a run tonight for the Nationals was Shawn Kelley who surrendered it on a booming home run which cut the Nats lead from 2-to-0 to 2-to-1.
“I was trying to just take it an inning at a time — pretty much,” Matt Grace said. “I knew I could give 3 [innings], for sure. I think any inning after that was a plus, so that was kind of my mindset going into this.”
The Nationals improved to their season’s best record of 26 games above .500 with this 7-to-1 win and a 73-47 mark in the standings.
The big news comes from Max Scherzer who insists he’s fine, and the neck issue was caused by skipping his neck exercises for a few days and once again sleeping awkwardly on his neck. He vows to make his next start a week from now when he is eligible to come off of the DL.
The Nationals of course hoped Max was going to make his next scheduled start on an extra days rest on Thursday in Houston. The Nats could use the extra day off on Monday to re-seed their rotation and pitch Tanner Roark on Tuesday, Edwin Jackson on Wednesday, and Stephen Strasburg on regular rest for Thursday and insert Scherzer back after that point or Gio Gonzalez could pitch Friday on regular rest.
If they believe Scherzer will be fine, there is no need for a spot starter next week except for next Sunday which is a scheduled doubleheader, and the Nats could call-up AJ Cole or Erick Fedde for the doubleheader if they can line one of the spot starters up.
The next strategic move that might make sense is getting a starter to San Diego today to be an emergency long-man since Matt Grace won’t be available for several days and he could be optioned for 10 days and rest in Syracuse.