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Scherzer pitches simulated game, nears return

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WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer is getting closer to returning.

The Washington Nationals ace threw a simulated game Tuesday, a key step in his progression toward returning to active duty. Facing a trio of Washington players that included Howie Kendrick, Gerardo Parra and Ryan Zimmerman, Scherzer tossed about 30 pitches during two innings on the main mound at Nationals Park.

Prior to that, he threw roughly 30 pitches during warm-ups in the bullpen.

The mock outing, which featured the veteran hurler’s game-day walkout song (“Still D.R.E”) and Parra’s walk-up music (“Baby Shark”), comes three days after Scherzer threw his first bullpen session since going back on the injured list with back issues.

Manager Davey Martinez was encouraged by what he saw and heard Tuesday.

“He said he felt really good,” Martinez said. “But the whole deal with this injury is his recovery, so we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

If Scherzer feels like his normal self Wednesday, the plan would be for him to throw a light bullpen session Thursday. As for whether Scherzer would work another simulated game or perhaps go on a rehab assignment before being activated, Martinez was noncommittal. One thing the Nats skipper does know is that when his ace eventually returns, his workload will be restricted.

“If we decided to pitch him in a game,” Martinez said, “it wouldn’t be 100 pitches right away. I can tell you that right now. We really gotta be very careful where we’re at with him right now. This is to get him through the rest of the season and then some.”

Scherzer has been dealing with back issues since the end of June, a month in which he went 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and won National League pitcher of the month honors. On July 13, after skipping the All-Star Game in an effort to get healthy, the three-time Cy Young winner was placed on the injured list with a mid-back strain, retroactive to July 10. He returned from the IL to face the Colorado Rockies on July 25, when he allowed three runs in five innings and threw a season-low 86 pitches. Four days later, Scherzer landed on the IL again (back-dated to July 26) with a mild rhomboid strain.

In other Nationals news, slugger Juan Soto is back in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. Soto missed Monday’s series opener after spraining his right ankle while rounding third base against the New York Mets on Sunday. The injury appeared serious at the time, but X-rays were negative on the 20-year old outfielder, who fractured the same ankle in 2017. Despite walking gingerly around the clubhouse Monday, Soto was cleared for action a day later.

“He checked all the boxes,” Martinez said of Soto. “We got him on the field. He ran angles. He turned like he was running the bases. The biggest thing was the turns. He said he felt great. He was bugging me yesterday to go in the game, and I told him just sit down and relax. But he was not happy that he had to sit and watch. He kept bugging me to pinch-hit. I was like, just sit down. You’ll be fine.”

Soto entered Tuesday hitting .288 with 24 home runs and 77 RBIs in 107 games. His 75 walks ranked third in the NL.

Scherzer is 9-5 with a 2.41 ERA. Despite spending time on the shelf, his 189 strikeouts were tied for most in the NL entering Tuesday.

The Nats went into Tuesday’s action with a 63-55 record. They were in second place in the NL East, six games behind the Atlanta Braves, and in possession of the top wild-card spot in the NL.

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Babe Ruth’s bat used for 500th home run to hit auction block

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LOS ANGELES — The bat used by Babe Ruth to slug his 500th career home run in 1929 is going up for auction, nearly 75 years after he gave it to a friend whose family has kept it ever since.

Ruth became the first player to reach the coveted plateau on Aug. 11, 1929, hitting a solo shot for the New York Yankees off Willis Hudlin at League Park in Cleveland.

In the mid-1940s, Ruth gave the bat to his friend Jim Rice, who was mayor of Suffern, New York. Ruth and Rice enjoyed golfing, bowling and dining together, and Ruth was a regular visitor to the Rice household, where he came to know Jim’s wife, Ethyl, and their children. Rice once beat Ruth in five straight games of bowling.

Terry Rice, an attorney in Suffern and Jim’s only son, is selling the bat. Born two years after Ruth died in 1948, Rice more closely associates Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra with the Yankees of his youth, but he remembers Ruth’s bat sat in the corner behind the television in the family’s den.

“It was always there. It was part of life,” Rice told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday. “No one said I couldn’t touch it. I never took it out and played baseball with it.”

Good thing, too, since the bat was recently authenticated and received the highest grade given.

“For an inanimate object, it’s beautiful,” Rice said. “It’s in perfect condition.”

The dark-colored Louisville Slugger shows marks on the upper barrel where Ruth knocked mud off his cleats. The left barrel has impressions where the bat made contact with the ball. There’s also a bit of green paint from where the bat rested in the dugout between uses.

“Babe Ruth is the king of the sports collectibles marketplace,” SCP Auctions President David Kohler said. “When a fresh Ruth item of such quality and historical importance as this one surfaces, it generates tremendous excitement throughout our industry.”

Ruth’s 500th homer cleared the right field wall in Cleveland, sailed out of the park and rolled down Lexington Avenue where it was plucked by an Indians fan. After the game, the ball was returned to Ruth in exchange for $20 and his autograph.

It would be another 16 years before Mel Ott became the second player to reach 500 homers in 1945.

After Jim Rice died in 1983, his wife kept possession of the bat until her death in 1997. Then it passed to Terry Rice and was stashed in a closet.

“You couldn’t leave it out,” Rice said. “I wasn’t enjoying it. I got to the point where we were worried about it.”

Rice, 69, talked to his two older sisters before deciding to sell. They plan to split the proceeds.

Officials from SCP Auctions in Laguna Niguel, California, estimate the bat could sell for over $1 million.

“He’d be absolutely flabbergasted,” Terry Rice said of his father’s reaction.

SCP sold Ruth’s bat used to homer on opening day of the 1923 season at Yankee Stadium for $1.26 million in 2004.

Rice pulled the 500th-homer bat out of the closet so it could see daylight before the authenticator arrived, and that’s when it hit him.

“This is a piece of history,” he said.

The Rice siblings are holding on to other mementos associated with Ruth. His oldest sister has a personally autographed photo, his middle sister has a paper Ruth signed, and Terry Rice has a signed baseball that Ruth inscribed to his father: To my pal Jim.

Oldest sister Pat has the strongest recollection of Ruth visiting the family home.

“He came in one time and picked her up into the air and hit her head on the chandelier,” Terry Rice recalled. “She said, `I don’t like you anymore.”

Rice said he hopes the Yankees or the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, would be interested in the bat.

Online bidding begins Nov. 27 and ends Dec. 14 at scpauctions.com.

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Scott Brosius replaces Joe Girardi as manager of USA Baseball

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DURHAM, N.C. — Joe Girardi has quit as the manager of the U.S. baseball team trying to qualify for the Olympics before it played a single game.

Girardi said Wednesday he is leaving to pursue a major league managing job. There are seven current openings.

He will be replaced by Scott Brosius, who had been slated to be Girardi’s bench coach. Brosius, the MVP of the 1998 World Series with the New York Yankees, became the senior director of baseball development for USA Baseball earlier this year.

Willie Randolph will shift from third base to bench coach, and Ernie Young from the first base coaching box to third.

The U.S. will train from Oct. 21-28 at the Kansas City Royals‘ complex in Surprise, Arizona, then start qualifying from Nov. 2-4 at Guadalajara, Mexico, as part of a group that includes the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Netherlands.

The top two teams advance to a qualifying round in Tokyo from Nov. 11-16. The winner of that group advances to the six-nation Olympic field, which already includes host Japan and Israel, and the second- and third-place teams advance to another qualifying event.

Baseball is returning to the Olympics after being dropped for 2012 and 2016. Cuba won the gold medal in 1992, 1996 and 2004, the United States in 2000 and South Korea in 2008. Next year’s Olympic baseball tournament is to be played from July 29 to Aug. 8 at Fukushima and Yokohama, Japan, as part of the Tokyo Games.

Players on 40-man rosters are not eligible to play for the U.S. in qualifiers. The 28-man U.S. roster includes several top prospects, including Los Angeles Angels outfielder Joe Adell, Chicago White Sox infielder Andrew Vaughn and Atlanta Braves outfielder Drew Waters.

Vaughn was the third overall pick in this year’s amateur draft.

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Yankees to start Masahiro Tanaka vs. Astros’ Zack Greinke in Game 4 after postponement

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Game 4 of the American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees has been postponed due to expected inclement weather in New York on Wednesday night.

First pitch for Game 4 will be 8:08 p.m. ET Thursday. Game 5 has been rescheduled for 7:08 p.m. ET Friday, which originally had been tabbed as a travel day, if necessary.

“It gives everybody a day off and an opportunity to collect ourselves,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “It changes our pitching a little bit; how beneficial is probably easier to answer after I see how guys perform and how the pitching plays out.”

The Yankees — who were planning a bullpen day for Game 4 — have announced they will go back to Masahiro Tanaka on regular rest. He blanked the Astros over six innings in Game 1 on Saturday, throwing just 68 pitches during a 7-0 win.

The Astros will counter with Zack Greinke, also on regular rest. The 2009 Cy Young Award winner, who was acquired from Arizona at the July 31 trade deadline, has struggled through two starts for the Astros this postseason, including the Game 1 loss to the Yankees in which he allowed two homers and three runs in six innings.

In Game 5, the Yankees likely will start James Paxton against the Astros’ Justin Verlander.

The Astros have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. The winner will face the Washington Nationals in the World Series.

Having Wednesday off will be welcome for New York after manager Aaron Boone used five relievers to cover 4 2/3 innings in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Astros. Starter Luis Severino threw 36 pitches in the first inning and was pulled in the fifth. Boone deployed key arms Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton in the loss, although none threw more than 11 pitches.

Games 6 and 7, if necessary, are not affected by Wednesday’s postponement and will be held in Houston on Saturday and Sunday.

Wednesday’s matchup is the first postseason game to be postponed since Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the Nationals and the Chicago Cubs in 2017, and the first LCS game to be called off since Game 3 of the Baltimore OriolesKansas City Royals series in 2014.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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