1 of 3 | Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg (pictured) and Max Scherzer are both healthy as they prepare to start the 2020 season on July 23 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
July 7 (UPI) -- Max Scherzer says he is "on target" for the 2020 seasonb but slugger Juan Soto is away from Washington Nationals summer camp and in isolation after he came into contact with a teammate who tested positive for COVID-19.
Scherzer threw the equivalent of two innings -- 32 pitches -- Friday when the Nationals began camp. He plans to throw more pitches each time during the next few weeks, working up to six innings before the Nationals start the regular season against the New York Yankees on July 23 in Washington, D.C.
"I'm on target and ready to ramp up with four starts to go two, three, four, five innings and be ready to throw six innings when I get to start," Scherzer told reporters. "Physically I feel good, ready to do that and ramp up for the season."
Scherzer, 35, posted an 11-7 record and had a 2.92 ERA in 27 starts last season. His 172.1 innings pitched were his lowest total since 2009.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner dealt with an injury on the right side of his body -- near his ribs -- in March before Major League Baseball canceled spring training and delayed the start of the 2020 season.
Scherzer also dealt with neck spasms last season, but still managed to help the Nationals win their first World Series in October. Scherzer allowed 21 hits and eight runs in six appearances during the Nationals' postseason run. He said he now is healthy.
"Mad Max" remains one of the game's elite arms, but the Nationals also boast a budding superstar in Soto. The 2018 runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year tied Anthony Rendon for the team lead with 34 home runs last season. He also hit .282 with 110 RBIs.
He should improve those numbers in 2020, but he might not get as much pre-season preparation as his teammates.
MVP candidate steps away
The off-season departures of several big bats from the Nationals lineup clears the way for Soto to post his first All-Star campaign. He also could be in line to collect his first National League MVP award.
But first, he'll need to self-isolate.
Soto was not present at Nationals camp Tuesday. Sources told the Washington Post, MASN and TalkNats.com that Soto came into contact with a teammate who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Nationals announced Sunday that two players tested positive for COVID-19, but did not reveal the players' names.
The Nationals also canceled Monday's workout due to COVID-19 testing delays.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was asked about Soto's absence and told reporters that players who came into contact with the two players who tested positive for COVID-19 were required to quarantine and take another test. The team is waiting for results.
BetOnline.AG gives Soto the fourth-best odds to win MVP, behind Ronald Acuna Jr., Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts. A $100 wager on Soto's odds to win (+800) would return a payout of $900 for a bettor. Acuna has the best odds to win at +400. Yelich is listed at +450 and Betts has +600 odds to win.
Bovada also has Soto with the fourth-best odds to win MVP honors at +800 but has Betts as the favorite at +285. Bovada also has Acuna (+600) and Yelich (+700) in front of Soto as favorites to win MVP.
Anthony Rendon left the Nationals in free agency this off-season to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. The Nationals also lost first baseman Matt Adams.
Rendon and Adams combined for 54 home runs and 182 RBIs last season. The departures should allow Soto to easily lead the team in home runs and RBIs.
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are the betting favorites to win the World Series, but the Nationals rank inside the Top-10 in odds to win the title on most betting sites.
The Nationals are scheduled to host the Yankees at 7:08 p.m. EDT July 23 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Kansas City Royals batter Alex Gordon connects for a sacrifice RBI during an exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on July 22. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo