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Nationals’ Scherzer on track for Thursday return



WASHINGTON — Nationals ace Max Scherzer is expected to return from the injured list Thursday.

“He felt good today,” manager Davey Martinez said of Scherzer, who threw a bullpen session Monday prior to the opener of a four-game series between the Nationals and Rockies getting rained out. That contest has been rescheduled as part of a doubleheader on Wednesday, with the finale coming Thursday afternoon.

Assuming Scherzer doesn’t suffer any setbacks between now and then, he would take the hill in the finale.

Scherzer has been dealing with an inflamed bursa sac below his right shoulder and has not pitched since July 6, when he tallied 11 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings against the Kansas City Royals. One week later, the Nats placed him on the injured list, retroactive to July 10.

On Tuesday, Martinez said the Nationals considered the calendar for the remainder of the regular-season schedule, as well as the postseason, before landing on Thursday as the likely return date for Scherzer.

“We actually sat down and looked at the schedule, and that’s basically how we came up with Thursday,” said the Nats’ second-year skipper. “I went all the way ’til the wild-card game. I’m hoping that we’re not the wild-card team. But we sat down and mapped everything out from that day.”

Washington began the day 6.5 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East, and in possession of the top wild-card spot in the NL. If Scherzer is able to go on Thursday, he would then line up to start in all three of his team’s remaining series against the Braves, as well as in Washington’s lone remaining series against the third-place Phillies. He’d also be in position to take the mound in a potential NL wild-card game.

A three-time Cy Young winner, Scherzer has been one of the game’s most durable hurlers, having made at least 30 starts in all 10 of his full seasons since debuting in 2008. Since signing a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals prior to the 2015 season, the 34-year-old righty had made only one other trip to the injured list, in August of 2017.

This season, Scherzer is 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA. In 129.1 innings, he has recorded 181 strikeouts, most in the National League. In June, prior to hitting the shelf, he went 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and was named the NL Pitcher of the Month.

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Reports — Nats, Holland reach minor-league deal



Right-handed reliever Greg Holland and the Washington Nationals have reached an agreement on a minor league contract, according to multiple reports Tuesday.

The 33-year-old Holland was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks last week. He was 1-2 with a 4.54 ERA and 17 saves in 22 chances this season.

Holland was 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA in 24 games for the Nationals last season.

Washington’s bullpen has struggled throughout this year. Its 6.05 ERA is the worst in the National League.

MLB Network first reported the Nationals’ agreement with Holland.

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Manuel, 75, back in Phils’ dugout as hitting coach



The Philadelphia Phillies have hired former manager Charlie Manuel as the team’s new hitting coach after relieving John Mallee of his duties, the team announced Tuesday.

Manuel, 75, last managed the Phillies in 2013. He is the franchise’s winningest manager with a 780-636 mark, leading the team to a 2008 World Series championship and five straight division titles.

Since the All-Star break, the Phillies rank last in the National League in batting average (.240), RBI (109) and extra-base hits (82), and the team’s .705 OPS ranks ahead of only the Marlins during that span.

Manuel will assume his new role immediately, the team said. He has previously twice served as a hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians, with whom he also was manager from 2000 to 2002.

After he was fired by the Phillies, Manuel was brought back into the fold as a senior adviser to general manager Ruben Amaro in 2014.

The Phillies are just two games back in the National League wild card race. They trail the Atlanta Braves by nine games in the NL East standings through Monday.

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Yes, the Yankees have rotation issues — but they can still win the World Series



The big story of the 2019 New York Yankees so far has been Gio Urshela and Mike Tauchman and DJ LeMahieu and Cameron Maybin doing amazing and wondrous things. Heck, Urshela and Tauchman each hit five home runs last week, and Urshela homered again in Monday’s doubleheader. LeMahieu is an MVP candidate (non-Mike Trout division). Maybin entered the season with a career OPS+ of 91, which means he had been a below-average hitter, but he began the week at 144 — which happens to be the career mark for Giancarlo Stanton.

The story of the 2019 Yankees — the ending to the final chapter, anyway — likely will rest with the starting rotation and how it performs in October. There is much angst among Yankees fans these days about that rotation, even after Masahiro Tanaka tossed eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. As the fans will quickly point out, that was Tanaka’s first good start in a while. In his previous seven starts, he allowed 36 runs in 31⅔ innings and had the worst ERA of any starter in the majors with at least five starts since the All-Star break.

It’s not just concern about Tanaka. Going back to the beginning of July (through the first game on Monday), the Yankees’ rotation has a 5.56 ERA, 23rd in the majors. Since July 1, Yankees starters have allowed the most home runs in the majors — yes, even more than the Baltimore Orioles.

OK, maybe it has just been a bad month and 12 days? Well, since June 1, the rotation has a 5.63 ERA, 25th in the majors. For the season, the Yankees have the worst road rotation ERA in the majors.

All that is bad news, and there’s no sense sugarcoating it — thus, all the extra love for Urshela & Co. these days. It’s easier to love those who love you back.

The Yankees, however, can win the World Series with this rotation. Despite the struggles, there is obvious upside to each starter:

— Tanaka: He actually hasn’t been as bad as his 4.64 ERA indicates, as two awful starts against the Boston Red Sox have ruined his ERA (six runs in two-thirds of an inning in London, then 12 runs in 3⅓ innings). Plus, in five career playoff starts, he has a 1.50 ERA. That doesn’t automatically mean he’ll pitch well in October, but at least he has a history of stepping up in big games.

James Paxton: He has a 4.40 ERA after Monday’s win. That’s actually better than that of the average American League starter, who has a 4.60 ERA, and Paxton has done it in a hitters’ park. His stuff obviously remains above average, and he has 137 strikeouts in 108⅓ innings. He has allowed two or fewer runs in seven of his past 11 starts. There’s no reason he can’t reel off several good starts in October.

Domingo German: Overall, his season has been solid, with a 4.05 ERA, 19.7% SO-BB rate (same as Clayton Kershaw‘s) and a .232 batting average allowed. He has been homer-prone (23 allowed in 109 innings), and his .298 wOBA allowed is one point worse than that of Madison Bumgarner and better than that of Aaron Nola, Trevor Bauer, Kyle Hendricks and Robbie Ray. Yankees fans wanted Bumgarner or Ray at the trade deadline, but are they really any better than German?

CC Sabathia: He has to recover from right knee inflammation, and he hasn’t had a good year, but never count out the old warrior. Or maybe Luis Severino will be ready in October.

Yes, I’ve spun a positive side to all those guys. It’s just as easy to spin the negative. It’s true that they will have to pitch better in October than they have of late. Here’s how the rotations of the past five World Series winners fared in the postseason:

2018 Red Sox: 3.80 ERA, 5.1 innings per start, 1.14 HR/9 IP

2017 Houston Astros: 3.33 ERA, 5.4 innings per start, 0.65 HR/9 IP

2016 Chicago Cubs: 2.60 ERA, 5.5 innings per start, 0.77 HR/9 IP

2015 Kansas City Royals: 4.97 ERA, 5.2 innings per start, 1.30 HR/9 IP

2014 San Francisco Giants: 3.38 ERA, 5.6 innings per start, 0.56 HR/9 IP

Of course, the 2015 Royals stand out: Their rotation did not pitch well, and they went all the way, relying on a deep and wonderful bullpen. What do the Yankees have? An even deeper bullpen than those Royals had. Plus, you’ll note the average innings per start. Not even the Giants, with Bumgarner’s magnificent run in 2014, in which he started six of the Giants’ 17 postseason games, cracked six innings per start.

Not only did the Royals’ rotation pitch relatively poorly in the postseason, but they also weren’t that great in the regular season, with a 4.34 ERA and 8.5 cumulative WAR (according to FanGraphs) that ranked 21st in the majors. In fact, check out some of the regular-season rankings for rotations of recent World Series winners:

2015 Royals: 4.34 ERA, 8.5 WAR

2014 Giants: 3.74 ERA, 8.3 WAR

2013 Red Sox: 3.84 ERA, 11.6 WAR

2012 Giants: 3.73 ERA, 9.7 WAR

2011 St. Louis Cardinals: 3.81 ERA, 11.4 WAR

2006 Cardinals: 4.79 ERA, 6.6 WAR

The Yankees currently are 17th in the majors, at 7.2 WAR.

You don’t need a rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke to win it all. You can do it with Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Johnny Cueto and Chris Young.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone will have the added luxury of his great bullpen. Knowing that starters barely average five innings per game in the postseason these days, expect an even tighter leash on the starters, especially with eight or nine relievers on the roster. No doubt Boone learned his lesson in last year’s division series against the Red Sox. In Games 3 and 4, he left Severino and Sabathia in too long, and they gave up big innings, though even then the criticism felt a little unfair, as both were pulled after three innings (and J.A. Happ lasted just two innings in Game 1). The lesson: Don’t let a big inning get out of hand, even early in a game, and have the bullpen ready ASAP.

What we don’t know yet is how creative Boone will get — or might have to get. The Yankees have used Chad Green as an opener 10 times this season, and that should be an option in the postseason as well, though it’s worth noting that Boone has done that only in “bullpen” games. Of his five main starters (including Happ), only German has made a relief appearance this season.

Boone also could consider tag-team outings, such as Paxton for two or three innings and Severino or German for two to bridge the gap to the bullpen. All the off days in the postseason mean more rest for the relievers, as the only time teams play three days in a row (barring rainouts) are Games 3, 4 and 5 of a seven-game series.

Plus, there’s this: The Yankees can score runs. They won’t need six innings of one-run baseball every game from their starters as long as Gio and friends keep mashing. Still, it would be nice — at least for Yankees fans — to see the rotation pitch a little better between now and the start of the postseason.

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