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Max Scherzer was scheduled to speak to the media via Zoom soon after the Dodgers landed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Friday night. News conferences are customary for starting pitchers the day before scheduled playoff outings and Scherzer has been slated to start Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.
But Scherzer didn’t address reporters. The team touched down at around 8:15 p.m. EDT and canceled the session minutes later because Scherzer isn’t going to start Saturday after all, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
Scherzer won’t make the start because of arm fatigue concerns, according to three people with knowledge of the situation. The Dodgers haven't announced a starter for the game.
Scherzer, 37, hasn’t pitched since Game 2 last Sunday when he threw 79 pitches over just 4 1/3 innings in a Dodgers loss. After the game, Scherzer said his “arm was dead.” Three days earlier, the right-hander threw 13 pitches to close out Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants. He has not undergone an MRI, a person with knowledge of the situation said.
“I could tell when I was warming up that it was still tired,” Scherzer said.
Despite Scherzer’s blunt assessment, the Dodgers maintained he would recover to start Saturday. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts reiterated the plan after the Dodgers’ Game 5 win Thursday, but acknowledged Scherzer’s stamina level was a mystery.
"I don't know until we get there,” Roberts said. "I really don't. He's doing his work and preparing. Obviously, he’s been on the stage. ...Whatever he can give us we're going to have guys around him to help us win a ballgame."
With Scherzer not set to start, the Dodgers, already without Clayton Kershaw for the postseason, the only other feasible option, could have Walker Buehler starting on short rest for the second time in the postseason. Julio Urías, the team’s No. 3 starter, pitched five innings in Game 4 on Wednesday.
Buehler held the Giants to one run across 4 1/3 innings in Game 4 of the NLDS on Oct. 12. In Game 3 of the NLCS on Tuesday, he recorded the worst outing of his already sterling postseason career, yielding four runs across 3 2/3 innings on six days’ rest.
The other option is another bullpen game with Tony Gonsolin or David Price assuming the bulk of the innings after using seven other relievers to stay alive in Game 5. Gonsolin didn’t pitch Thursday after logging two innings in Game 4 on Wednesday. Price was added to the roster Friday to replace the injured Joe Kelly. The veteran left-hander hasn’t pitched since the Dodgers’ penultimate regular season game Oct. 2.
The Dodgers acquired Scherzer, a free agent this winter, from the Washington Nationals at the July 30 trade deadline to bolster the starting rotation with another frontline talent for another World Series pursuit knowing Trevor Bauer wasn’t going to return from paid administrative leave this season. His playoff returns have been mixed so far.
Scherzer started two playoff games before recording his first career save in his relief appearance in San Francisco on Oct. 14. In the first postseason outing, he threw 94 pitches in just 4 1/3 innings in the wild-card game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Five days later, he was dominant against the Giants, surrendering one run on three hits with 10 strikeouts across seven innings in the Dodgers’ 1-0 Game 3 loss.
Three days after that, Scherzer was used in relief on two days’ rest for the second time in his postseason career. In the first instance, pitching for the Nationals in Game 5 of the 2017 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs, he gave up four runs in one inning in a loss. Two years later, he tossed a scoreless inning for the Nationals against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the 2019 NLDS. He then limited the Dodgers to one run over seven innings in Game 4 three days later.
He didn’t bounce back nearly as smoothly in Game 2 against the Braves last Sunday.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” Scherzer said. “You don't want to always go out there and pitch full strength. Usually in those situations, once you get past pitch 45 sometimes, it kind of loosens up and you're able to get deeper into a game. But after that third inning, it didn't loosen up. It was still more tightening up. So, I could tell that my pitch count was going to be limited.”
His pitch count Saturday will be zero, leaving the Dodgers another obstacle to overcome as they face elimination.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.