Right-hander Max Scherzer hasn't been available much to help the past several weeks as the Washington Nationals have remained squarely in the hunt for a playoff spot.
That could change as early as Thursday, when he is expected to start in the finale of a four-game series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
Scherzer (9-5, 2.41 ERA) has dealt with back and shoulder injuries, leading to two stretches on the injured list, and has started just once since July 6 -- with no appearances since July 25.
And Scherzer is no fan of missing time.
"Honestly, the toughest part about this whole thing is I feel like the carrot's right in front of my face, that it's such (a) day-to-day (thing) that any day it could turn," Scherzer said, according to the Nationals' website. "You always wake up every single day thinking today's the day that you're going to wake up and not feel anything, and you're going to go out there and you're going to throw it and you're going to feel no pain whatsoever.
"And you go off running because it's not a serious injury. That's been the most frustrating part."
He is expected to be on a pitch count Thursday, likely fewer than 100, Washington manager Dave Martinez told reporters.
The Nationals have gone 13-8 during Scherzer's most recent IL stay.
That includes winning two of the first three games in the series against the Pirates at PNC Park.
The second game of the series, a 4-1 Pittsburgh win Tuesday, sticks out for both clubs. Washington has scored 73 runs in the other six of its past seven games, while the Pirates have scored just two runs in the other four of their past five games.
"Offensively, we haven't been able to connect the dots," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle told the media. "We haven't been able to take advantage of little windows of opportunity to make them bigger opportunities."
And that's with Scherzer on the horizon.
Scherzer is 5-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 13 career appearances, 12 of them starts, against Pittsburgh.
Thursday, Scherzer will face Pittsburgh left-hander Steven Brault (3-2, 4.06).
The Pirates have had injury issues with starters most of the season -- and that continued Wednesday when Chris Archer went on the IL because of inflammation in his throwing shoulder. Brault has been fairly reliable as a default member of the rotation.
He has given up 16 runs, 15 of them earned, in his past 10 starts and is 2-1 with a 3.45 ERA in his 12 starts this year after entering the season as a long reliever.
Saturday, he struck out a career-high eight in seven innings in a 2-0 loss to the Cubs.
"The important thing is being able to throw the fastball where I want to. When I can command the fastball, I want them to swing at it early," Brault said.
In his only career start against Washington, Brault got a no-decision Oct. 1, 2017 when he gave up four runs and six hits, with four walks, in two innings.
--Field Level Media