The latest twist in the Nats’ version of “Who’s On First” simply boils down to Stephen Strasburg feeling better on Wednesday.
The last-minute decision to start Strasburg in Game 4 of the National League Division Series has nothing to do with peer pressure from his teammates or the media. The All-Star pitcher’s flu-like symptoms improved enough overnight for him to inform the team he’s ready to go.
At least that’s the Nationals’ version in a saga that has seen the All-Star pitcher’s courage questioned and the team’s ability to put out a clear and concise message mocked for an entire news cycle.
Less than 24 hours after manager Dusty Baker said Tanner Roark would start the potential elimination game, the Nationals announced that a suddenly healthy Strasburg would go instead. The team’s message was further muddled early Wednesday when Nats general manager Mike Rizzo reaffirmed that Roark would start on a DC radio station.
In the end, all that matters to the Nats after this distracting much-ado-about-nothing cycle is that Strasburg will face the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“Many statements that have been made about this subject have been inaccurate,” Rizzo said. “If you're alluding to the fact that -- did the media pressure him into starting this? I don't think Stephen Strasburg cares about what the media thinks about him or says about him. He wanted the ball in this game because he wants to win this game and he thinks he's our best option. And he's an ultra-competitor and he feels this gives us a chance to win.”
If you’re all confused by this you’re not alone.
Though Cubs manager Joe Maddon had an inkling that Strasburg would start, Baker said Wednesday afternoon that when he left Wrigley on Tuesday night he was under the impression Roark was his guy.
The decision to stick with Roark after Tuesday’s rainout stunned the baseball world as everyone figured the Nationals would take advantage of the weather to use Strasburg, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in Game 1 of the series. When they stayed with Roark because Strasburg -- who threw a bullpen Monday and played catch on Tuesday -- was ill, Baker, Rizzo and the pitcher were all questioned heavily.
But Strasburg apparently responded well enough to overnight treatment, including IVs, to call pitching coach Mike Maddux on Wednesday and tell him he wanted to pitch. Maddux said the coaching staff would convene once they arrived at Wrigley.
Two hours later, word leaked out Strasburg would pitch adding another layer of confusion. Much to his surprise, Baker said Strasburg told him he wants the ball.
“I was planning on Tanner pitching,” Baker said. “Things are subject to change and … maybe the rain helped him and helped us, like I hoped that it would. I said my prayers and said, ‘Hey, man, let the rain try to help us.’
“Hawaiian buddies of mine … were saying, ‘Hey, sometimes, that's a blessing from the sky.’ They call it mana. I believe in that.”
Baker believes Strasburg is ready for a normal start. The turn comes on regular rest after Strasburg pitched Game 1 on Friday in Washington. Strasburg pitched 5 2/3 no-hit innings in the opener but was undone when the Cubs took advantage of an Anthony Rendon error in the sixth inning and went on to a 3-0 win. Strasburg allowed two unearned runs and three hits while striking out 10 and walking one in seven innings.
Baker reiterated Rizzo’s stance that Strasburg wasn’t pressured into the decision by the team, its players or the media.
“We didn't put that pressure on him, and I don't think that he would succumb to the pressure from the public or the media or anybody,” Baker said. “You know, he's a grown man. He made that decision on his own and he wanted to pitch, and he was very adamant about he wanted to pitch and how much better he was feeling.”