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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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O’s break record for HRs allowed in a season

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BALTIMORE — Somewhere, the Cincinnati Reds are toasting.

On Thursday at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles surrendered their 259th home run of the year, breaking a tie with the 2016 Reds for most roundtrippers allowed by a team in a single season.

The record-breaking bomb came in the top of the third inning of Baltimore’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, when Austin Meadows sent a 1-2 curveball from O’s starter Asher Wojciechowski just barely over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field for his 22nd dinger of the season. A former first round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, Wojciechowski came into the contest having allowed 12 homers in 49 innings.

Entering play on Thursday, the Orioles were on pace to yield 329 longballs. With power numbers up across Major League Baseball, Baltimore isn’t the only team that’s been giving up taters at a record rate. Through Wednesday’s games, the Mariners, Angels, Yankees, and Phillies were all on target to surpass the ’16 Reds.

Nearly a quarter of Baltimore’s historic 2019 total has come against the division-rival Yankees. In 19 games against New York, Birds hurlers surrendered 61 jacks, shattering the mark for most homers allowed to one team in a single season.

This season, 3.7 percent of all MLB plate appearances have resulted in taters, up from 3.0 percent a year ago. Compared to 2014, when the league-wide rate was 2.3 percent, home runs have increased by roughly 60 percent. If the current rate holds throughout the rest of the season, it would break the all-time single season record of 3.3 percent, set during the 2017 campaign.

The rebuilding Orioles began play on Thursday in last place in the American League East, owners of a 41-86 record that was second worst in the majors. Their team ERA of 5.89 was the highest in baseball by nearly half a run.

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Angels shut down Canning (elbow) for season

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The Los Angeles Angels announced Thursday that they’re shutting down rookie starter Griffin Canning for the rest of the season after an MRI showed mild inflammation in his right elbow joint.

The team said Wednesday night that he was going back on the injured list just three weeks after the same issue landed the 2017 second-round pick out of UCLA on the shelf.

Thursday’s announcement comes just four days after Canning had perhaps the best start of his career, going seven innings and allowing just one run in leading the Angels to a 9-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Canning went 5-6 with a 4.58 ERA in 17 starts and one relief appearance. He has 96 strikeouts through his first 18 major league games, second in Angels history behind Jered Weaver, who had 100.

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Rays’ Lowe injures quad, likely done for season

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Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe has likely been ruled out for the season after suffering another injury during his attempted comeback from a right shin bruise, manager Kevin Cash said Thursday.

Lowe suffered a left quad strain during a Triple-A rehab game Wednesday night. It was his fourth rehab game from the shin injury that had kept him out of the majors since July 2.

“He’s most likely done for the year,” Cash said Thursday. “I think that’s the best way to say it. If he comes back early, great.”

The rookie had been named as an All-Star replacement when he injured his shin against the Baltimore Orioles.

“From basically July 2, 3 or whatever it was, it’s kind of become a disappointment,” Cash said. “He’s done everything we could ask in the first half for us. Very deserving of being on the All-Star team.

“Unfortunately, the shin injury comes out and now this as he’s getting closer. Just not ideal, but we’re equipped with some guys that can certainly come in and continue to fill that void. We’ve been doing it, but we’re going to miss him.”

Lowe, 25, finishes the season hitting .276 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs.

The Rays entered Thursday at 74-54, tied with the Oakland Athletics for the American League’s second wild-card berth.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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