ATLANTA — Max Scherzer is expected to throw the Los Angeles Dodgers' first pitch in the National League Championship Series. The 37-year-old right-hander would do so only two days after delivering the final pitch of a clinching win in their NL Division Series against the San Francisco Giants.
Unusual? Yes. And yet no one is surprised.
"That is Scherzer being Scherzer," teammate Cody Bellinger said.
Scherzer is expected to start on the mound as the Braves counter with left-hander Max Fried in Game 1 of the NLCS at 8:07 p.m. Saturday. TBS will televise the best-of-seven series, a rematch of last year's NLCS in which Los Angeles trailed three games to one before coming back to advance and win the World Sereies.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he plans to start Scherzer even after the NL Cy Young Award contender earned the first save of his accomplished MLB career in a 2-1 victory in San Francisco on Thursday night in Game 5 of their NLDS. Afterward, Roberts said he understood "there might be a cost" in using Scherzer in the closing role as the wild-card Dodgers faced the quick turnaround before opening the NLCS.
Whatever that cost, the plan is for Scherzer to start the opener.
"That won't surprise me," Braves manager Brian Snitker said Friday before Atlanta's workout at Truist Park.
Snitker said Scherzer's 13-pitch ninth inning was like an off-day session in the bullpen.
"That's kind of like a side for him right there," Snitker said. "The guy is just a different animal. I mean, he's a (likely) Hall of Famer, and those guys, man, they're cut from a different cloth than normal guys, so it won't surprise me at all if he shows up and is on the mound."
Scherzer recorded two strikeouts Thursday, including a controversial check swing by Wilmer Flores to end the game. First base umpire Gabe Morales ruled Flores swung, though TV replays seemed to indicate Flores held up.
Bellinger hit a tiebreaking single in the ninth and Mookie Betts set a postseason career high with four hits in the decisive win over the Giants.
Scherzer was 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA for the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles this season, including 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA in 11 starts for the Dodgers after being traded at the deadline in late July. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has pitched 12 1/3 innings over three appearances in these playoffs, allowing two runs and six hits with 16 strikeouts.
Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman said he was wondering who would pitch the ninth inning for Los Angeles on Thursday night as he watched the game on TV.
"And then they showed Max running up and I said, 'That's the guy,'" Freeman said. "I don't think anybody else would want anybody else other than Max in that game. He's a bulldog, facing him for years."
Freeman said he never doubted Scherzer would want the ball in the NLCS opener even after the relief appearance: "He's going to come back, I bet, tomorrow and pitch against us, and he's going to be Max Scherzer."
Roberts planned to confirm his rotation plans with Scherzer after the team's arrival in Atlanta and workout Friday night to "just kind of see where he's at. But as of now, that's kind of where we're at."
Fried moves up as Atlanta's Game 1 starter after 37-year-old Charlie Morton pitched on short rest Tuesday night in the Braves' 5-4 clinching win against the Milwaukee Brewers in their NLDS.
Fried, 27, joins Morton and Ian Anderson, 23, to give Snitker a reliable three-man rotation. Snitker plans to have a bullpen game that could include Huascar Ynoa and Drew Smyly, who made a combined 40 starts during the regular season for the NL East champions.
When the Braves lost to the Dodgers in last year's NLCS, Fried was joined by three rookies — Anderson, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson — in the rotation.
Led by Morton, Fried and Anderson, the Braves recorded two shutouts in their NLDS against Milwaukee. Atlanta limited the Brewers to six runs in four games.
"I feel really good about all three of the guys we're going to be featuring," Snitker said. "I'd say it's a significant difference than a year ago when we started this tournament."
The Braves were preparing to be without outfielder Jorge Soler in the NLCS as they awaited his clearance after testing positive for COVID-19, which forced him to miss the NLDS finale. Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson replaced Soler as the leadoff hitter against the Brewers on Tuesday, when Guillermo Heredia moved into the lineup in center field and Cristian Pache took Soler's spot on the 26-man roster. Snitker said Friday he was still considering Swanson and other options for his leadoff hitter Saturday night.
As a division champion and the higher seed, the Braves will enjoy home-field advantage, with Game 2 Sunday night at Truist Park before the series shifts to Los Angeles starting Tuesday. Atlanta went 88-73 in the regular season, making a late push to win its fourth straight division title after not having a winning record all year until early August.
The Dodgers went 106-56 in the regular season but were denied what would have been their ninth straight NL West title as the Giants won 107 games in a division race that went down to the final day. Los Angeles then beat the St. Louis Cardinals — who earned the NL's second wild card in part due to a 17-game winning streak in September — when Chris Taylor hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-1 win that set up the NLDS with San Francisco.
Now they have an NLCS rematch with Atlanta after winning four of six games against the Braves this year.
"It's going to be another good one. It's not going to be easy," Bellinger said Thursday night. "We played each other a few times the last few years. So we kind of know what each other's got, and really looking forward to it."