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Scherzer injects competition in the clubhouse

Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalex have combined for 11 innings and no runs in the last two games. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

VIERA, Fla. — In Max Scherzer, the Nationals added more than a prolific arm to an already-imposing rotation: They added some competition and good-natured challenges around the clubhouse.

“On any given day, we have competitions all over the place with Max and people,” says manager Matt Williams. “That’s great, that they take the time to challenge each other.”

The latest challenge came Thursday evening, one day removed from Scherzer’s six-inning, scoreless start in which he fanned nine batters. This time, he challenged starter Gio Gonzalez.

“Within the fourth inning Max came up to me and said, ‘Let’s see how many times you can go out there and pound the strike zone — first-pitch strike,'” Gonzalez recounted after his start.

“Every challenge Max throws my way, I’m one step ahead of him,” he joked, having settled in over five scoreless innings.

The friendly competitions around the clubhouse augur positive results on the field.

“They’re always trying to encourage you to take it a step further, see what you can do,” Gonzalez says.

The starting rotation has been the bright spot of the spring, as three position players may not be available for Opening Day.

“Are we equipped? Yeah,” Williams says of the roster’s depth. “Is it ideal? No.”

He says it wasn’t in his plan coming into spring training to navigate injuries to Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span, but baseball requires the ability to adjust and adapt.

On Thursday, Bryce Harper left the facility with a “stomach bug.” He did not play in the loss to the Mets.

Just more than a week from now, the Nationals return home for an exhibition with the Yankees before the regular season gets going.

“Everybody at this point I think is a little bit testy and a little bit ready to go,” Williams says. “Including me.”

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