File photo by Ed Sheahin for The Sports Capitol

Scherzer, Strasburg meet with martinez following dugout argument

BY TODD DYBAS | JULY 20, 2018

NATIONALS PARK — Stephen Strasburg jogged off the mound with a dogged line behind him in his first start since June 8. Strasburg allowed eight hits and six earned runs in 4 ⅔ innings. He struck out six.

As he descended the dugout steps and walked past Max Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner patted Strasburg on the left shoulder. Strasburg then sat on the end of the bench. He said something and gestured with his arm. They began to argue.

There was heat in the exchange. Enough that the two went down the dugout steps out of view to continue their conversation. Postgame, following the Nationals falling to 48-49 after an 8-5 loss and further out of the National League East Division race, they held another conversation in Davey Martinez’s office. It took long enough that the usual postgame routine of the manager first meeting with reporters in the press conference room was eschewed for opening the clubhouse before the manager was ready to speak. The Nationals were attempting to accommodate others, reporters and players alike, who were not part of the meeting taking place just off the main clubhouse.

The optics and timing are poor, though of course there is no good time for $385 million worth of pitchers to be arguing in plain sight. That it happened Friday night a few hours after a team workout that was anchored in the idea of “us,” that it came in what has been a failing season thus far and that it pushed them back under .500 and 6 ½ games out of first place is all the more damning. The visual will rocket around the Internet long before Martinez’s claim that everything is good will make any progress.

“This stuff happens,” Martinez said. “I’ve been on teams where guys wanted to choke each other. It’s a long season. They get it. They understand. We talked about it. I don’t want to lose sleep about it. It was a really good conversation. I’ll just leave it at that. Things are good.”

Strasburg was more terse, as he tends to be no matter the circumstance. He was asked what happened in the dugout.

“Part of family, man,” Strasburg said. “You’ve got to be in the family.”

He was then asked if he had talked to Scherzer since their argument.

“You’ve got to be in the family,” Strasburg said. “You’re not.”

That ended his thoughts on the situation.

Matt Wieters said he thought Strasburg didn’t have excellent command Friday. Strasburg, who was working on changes to his delivery during his rehabilitation, said those alterations “kind of went out the window sometimes tonight.” The Nationals scored five runs but left the bases loaded at one point and again did not find a way to win a pitching matchup that appeared tilted in their favor. That’s the analysis of the game-side Friday night. The dugout debate appeared more telling of the general mood in the clubhouse.

“We had a really good conversation,” Martinez said. “I’ll just say that. It was addressed. Look, they’re very competitive. Everybody is. I’m glad we talked. It’s over. Let’s move forward. These guys are professionals. We’re good. I’m good that we had the conversation.”

Strip away how it looked or how it seems to get to the reality. The Nationals are a game under .500 in a season they labeled the only acceptable outcome as winning the World Series. They need to find a way to win now, no matter how they are getting along on a day-to-day basis.

Doolittle not there yet

Sean Doolittle raised his leg in the clubhouse Friday and his shower shoe wiggled off the end of his foot. Doolittle was explaining the torque his injured foot absorbs when he drops his hip and loads to throw a pitch. Though he threw off a bullpen mound Friday, his foot is not ready to display the real thing in a game.

Doolittle is close to returning. He’s just not ready the first day he was eligible to come off the 10-day disabled list.

“It’s better,” he said. “[Friday] was a good day. I did some light jogging and I threw off the mound in the bullpen. I’m disappointed that I’m not ready to come off just yet but we are making progress and moving in the right direction.”

Two things matter for Doolittle going forward: How his foot feels in the bullpen sessions as well as how his pitches come out down there. It’s not just a question of velocity for him. He says that’s good. But, his pitches did not have the life he desires, which tells him he is not ready yet. It’s also key since Doolittle operates in such high-leverage situations with a total reliance on one powerful pitch, his fastball.

“I wasn’t happy with how I was executing,” Doolittle said. “I still have work to do with it to be able to really get into my mechanics and have the ball come out of my hand the way I want it to.”

He has been able to play catch as often as he wants. Doolittle said his shoulder, which has troubled him in the past, feels well. The rest of his body is receiving a chance to heal during the break, too. Martinez labeled Doolittle as “just around the corner.” That would be beneficial. The Nationals opened the “second half” with a six-man bullpen.

Zimmerman back, but not in

Ryan Zimmerman was activated Friday. Wander Suero was sent back to Triple-A Syracuse. Zimmerman was not in the lineup Friday night, however. He’s en route to a platoon situation at first base. Matt Adams started, and homered, against right-hander Anibal Sanchez. Fifteen of his 16 home runs are against right-handed pitching. Mark Reynolds remains in the mix (maybe even at second base). Zimmerman will also be slowly worked back in. He will start Saturday against left-handed Sean Newcomb after a pinch-hit appearance Friday night. He grounded out to shortstop.

Todd Dybas is the managing editor and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. He has spent 17 years in the sports editorial industry, working as a writer and layout editor, winning multiple awards in both positions. He has been an NFL beat writer, has worked as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for seven years, and is a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association.

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