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Nationals still have ace up their sleeve against Dodgers

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws during the first inning of Game 1 of baseball’s National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws during the first inning of Game 1 of baseball’s National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
By Stephen Whyno Associated Press

WASHINGTON – While going to ace Clayton Kershaw on short rest helped the Los Angeles Dodgers stave off elimination in their National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals, it also has raised the question:

Who will start Game 5 for the Dodgers?

“I know Kershaw isn’t pitching,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “Thank God.”

While there will be no Kershaw and L.A. manager Dave Roberts still has not named his starter, the Nationals will hand the ball to Cy Young Award candidate Max Scherzer in the decisive Game 5 at home Thursday night.

With a spot in the N.L. Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs at stake, Scherzer is the man Washington wants on the mound and he’s embracing the pressure.

“I’ve kind of said over the past few days, I’ve said that a handful of times throughout my career, ‘Hey, this is the biggest start of my career,’ ” Scherzer said Tuesday. “How you handle that, going out there using the emotion of that scenario, that everything is on the line, look, I’m not going to shy away from it. This is the biggest start of my career.”

Scherzer (20-7, 2.96 ERA) lasted only six innings and lost Game 1 after giving up home runs to Corey Seager and Justin Turner. While Scherzer is looking for some redemption, the Dodgers are looking forward to another shot at him.

“I mean, we beat him once already,” first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. “We put some pretty good at-bats against him in Game 1, and we’re confident that we can do that again.”

The Nationals also had some good at-bats against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill, beating him in Game 2. Hill (12-5, 2.12) will most likely be the Dodgers’ starter in Game 5, though Roberts will use a “collection of arms” and could quickly turn to fresh 20-year-old lefty Julio Urias if there’s trouble.

Washington’s bullpen has been strong, but Scherzer is in the spotlight.

“I know who Max is and how he goes about it,” right fielder Bryce Harper said. “I think there are things we can do in the bullpen, as well, if Max doesn’t get to the ninth. He’s got a lot of help. So hopefully we’ll get a couple of runs early and do what we can to stay with our approach and stay within ourselves (and) just have a lot of fun.”

Scherzer considers the big stage plenty of fun. He said it doesn’t matter that it’s not him against Kershaw again and expects the Dodgers’ best effort and a charged atmosphere.

“It’s going to be a heck of a ballgame,” Scherzer said. “These are two great teams. We’ve seen great pitching, we’ve seen great offense, great bullpens, clutch hitting. We’ve seen it all. So the opportunity to go out there in Game 5, back in D.C. with our fans, it’s going to be a heck of an experience.”

Some other things to watch in Game 5 between the Dodgers and Nationals:

Lefty onslaught: The Dodgers can trot out a lineup of seven left-handed batters, starting with Chase Utley and Seager and continuing down to Gonzalez, Joc Pederson, switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal and Andrew Toles. That’s a powerful crew that can do damage if Scherzer makes even a couple of mistakes.

Murph-tober: Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy has picked up where he left off last October with the New York Mets. Murphy is 6 for 13 with six RBIs in the series but has yet to hit a home run. He had seven in the playoffs last year, including three against the Dodgers.

Bullish pen: Nationals relievers have combined to allow two runs on 10 hits in 14 2/3 innings in the series. Lefties Sammy Solis, Marc Rzepczynski and Oliver Perez have flummoxed the Dodgers, who developed a reputation for struggling against left-handed pitchers.

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