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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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Yankees GM rappels building, gets fan’s message on Gerrit Cole

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STAMFORD, Conn. — While Brian Cashman was descending the outside of a building Friday, the New York Yankees general manager came across a message taped to a 10th-floor window from a fan: Please sign Gerrit Cole.

Cashman, whose rappelling adventure has become a holiday tradition, confirmed he met with Cole in California on Tuesday and spoke with another free-agent pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, the following day.

“It was a great opportunity, clearly it was very public, that we met with Gerrit Cole and Strasburg while I was on the West Coast,” Cashman said. “At least, that’s who you all are aware of so far. Who knows who I met with?”

The Yankees have made signing Cole their clear offseason priority and have ownership-level approval to offer him a record-setting deal, sources familiar with their plans told ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Thursday.

Cole and Strasburg are the top pitchers on the free-agent market. The Yankees would like to add an ace to a rotation that already includes Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ.

Along with Cashman, assistant GM Mike Fishman, manager Aaron Boone, new Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake and former Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte made the trip to speak with both pitchers, who are represented by Scott Boras.

The Yankees’ fondness for the 29-year-old Cole, whose fantastic 2019 season with the Houston Astros set him up to smash David Price‘s record $217 million contract for a pitcher, was only reinforced during the meeting, sources told ESPN.

New York and the Los Angeles Angels, a team similarly smitten with Cole and in even greater need of pitching, are preparing for a bidding war that executives expect will reach well beyond $250 million, according to sources. The Los Angeles Dodgers‘ interest in Cole is acute as well, though they are also considering bids for Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon, sources told ESPN.

Cashman offered little about possibly signing either pitcher, declining to discuss how much the Yankees might spend.

“I think it was an important part of the process for them,” Cashman said. “It sounds like they have met with many teams, and obviously I can’t predict the future or the timing of their futures; only really they control that.”

Cole was 20-5 with an American League-best 2.50 ERA and a big league-high 326 strikeouts this year for the AL champion Astros. He was originally drafted by the Yankees with the 28th overall pick in 2008, but he declined to sign a contract and opted to attend UCLA.

Strasburg was the MVP of the World Series for the Washington Nationals and was the first overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Cashman will return to California for the baseball’s winter meetings, which begin Monday. First, he’ll attend Sunday’s Heights and Lights, where he will dress as an elf and again descend the Landmark Building.

“I’ll be flying back out after this event and in the meantime staying engaged,” said Cashman, who declined to say if another meeting with either pitcher was planned.

“I’m open to do clearly whatever, as always, is important for the Yankees. If there are certain steps that need to be taken, or conversations on the phone, like any club we are fully prepared to do what’s necessary.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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What’s next for the teams that lose the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes?

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The day Gerrit Cole picks his next team will be a holiday for some team’s fan base, for some team’s front office. That team — maybe the Yankees, maybe the Angels or the Dodgers or the Giants — will have locked down a staff ace for most of the next decade, the best pitcher on the planet (currently) at the absolute apex of his career.

But the other teams will get a call from agent Scott Boras in which he says, in so many words: Gerrit is moving in another direction. That will be a hard moment, a hard day, and the losing bidders will have to quickly pivot.

It won’t be easy. As one general manager asked the other day, “Where are all these teams going to find the starting pitching they need?”

It’s not only the Yankees, Angels and Dodgers who need starting pitching. The White Sox are pushing to add two veteran starters. The Reds need help, and so will the Nationals if Stephen Strasburg doesn’t re-sign. The Phillies, Mets, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Padres and others are looking for starting pitchers.

This is where the losers in the Cole bidding could turn:

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Win-now Padres pay steep price for Tommy Pham

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The Padres and Rays lined up yet again on a trade Thursday night, with the Rays sending Tommy Pham, whom they acquired less than 18 months ago for three prospects, to the West Coast in a deal that nets them one of San Diego’s top prospects. It’s a heavy price for the Padres to pay to try to improve their odds of contending in 2020.

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