Yankees vs Nationals

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The New York Yankees only come to Washington once every three years, so even when they stop by for two midweek games in May, it qualifies as an event. Certainly, intrigue is no reason to rearrange one’s rotation for any spring series. That the Nationals rearranged theirs, and that the rearrangement means Max Scherzer will pitch the second of the two games, is more about keeping their starters on proper rest than anything else.

The Nationals have Monday and Thursday off this week, something about which no one would ever complain, but it’s still a scheduling quirk that forced them to make some decisions regarding their rotation. They chose to give every starter an extra day of rest, so Gio Gonzalez will start on an extra day of rest Tuesday. Scherzer, though, will start on regular rest Wednesday, then get another day of rest next time through the rotation.

Tanner Roark will start Friday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he will do so on two extra days of rest. The Nationals have not officially announced their starters beyond that, save for Stephen Strasburg on Saturday on two extra days and Jeremy Hellickson on Sunday.

Scherzer is the biggest stickler for routine and has been planning to make this start on regular rest for weeks. In other words, the shuffle was the plan all along.

Strasburg, despite throwing 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball Saturday, looked like a man who could use a little rest. Strasburg has shown signs of cupping on his elbow this week. While he uses that treatment regularly on his shoulder and upper back, he has not often shown the characteristic splotches in the area of his right elbow. Additionally, Manager Dave Martinez admitted some concern when Strasburg’s velocity was down and his command off in the first inning Saturday. Strasburg dismissed the trouble as mechanical and said he was rushing through his delivery. Indeed, he did seem to find better rhythm as the game went on, and his command and velocity both returned to normal.

Either way, he will get two extra days, which should bode well for his start at Nationals Park this weekend. Strasburg owns a 3.06 ERA on regular rest, which is certainly just fine. On two extra days of rest or more, his ERA is 2.46.

All that shuffling means Scherzer will get to face that star-studded Yankees lineup, which now includes his old National League East friend Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is 4 for 18 against Scherzer with nine strikeouts and two home runs. Scherzer has faced Aaron Judge just once: in the 2017 All-Star Game. He struck him out.
1. Keep the ball in the park

The Nationals’ bullpen has been plagued by the long ball all season. They’re allowing 1.18 homers per nine innings, which is the 8th-most of any team in baseball. Their HR/FB rate is sitting 14%, which is the 5th-worst in baseball this year.

The Yankees, as you’ve surely heard, hit a whole bunch of home runs. This season, they’re 1st in ISO, 2nd in HRs, and 3rd in HR/FB (15%). Sean Doolittle’s performance against the Yankees’ power-hitting will be what wins or loses this series.

2. Continue hitting right-handed pitching well

Against righties this year, the Nats are hitting .245/.337/.424 – noticeably better than the .227/.310/.636 line they’re posting against lefties. Their 106 wRC+ against right-handed pitching is the 6th best in all of baseball. Of the Yankees’ 366 innings pitched this year, 269 of them have been from right-handers. The Nats are going to see a lot of right-handed pitching

3. Consistent bench production

Over the last two weeks, Wilmer Difo is hitting .333/.429/.556, with Howie Kendrick not far behind at .300/.327/.360. Matt Adams has seven home runs during that span. With Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon, and David Murphy all missing extended time with various injuries, the Nats have still put up a top-10 offense in baseball this season. Facing a Yankees rotation that’s top-3 in WAR and the best bullpen in baseball will be one of the bigger challenges of their young season.

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