Nationals Remain Coy on Game 1 Starter: ‘We Have Two No. 1 Pitchers’

The Nationals have yet to announce their rotation for the coming National League Division Series against the Cubs. Whether it’s Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer on the hill, the Nats are confident with their Game 1 option.

Mike Rizzo, Nationals GM and President of Baseball Operations, was asked during his weekly appearance with The Sports Junkies Wednesday who will start for his club Friday evening.

“You know, we’re not sure yet,” he said. “We haven’t made the decision. We certainly haven’t made the announcement. Max is not only our No. 1 starter, he’s probably the No. 1 starter in the league and maybe in baseball. If he’s capable of pitching Game 1, he’s the Game 1 starter. If we feel it’s beneficial for him to get an extra day or two days to rest the hamstring and prepare for Game 2 or Game 3, we would certainly be open to that.”

“The good thing about our club,” he said, “is that we have two No. 1 pitchers with Stras and Max. We’re fortunate to have that option. When you run the hottest pitcher in baseball out there in Game 1, in Stephen Strasburg, that’s not the worst thing in the world. We’ll take that any day of the week.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon, perhaps with a hint of gamesmanship, announced his rotation order Wednesday, a whole two days ahead of Game 1. Chicago will open the series with right-hander Kyle Hendricks, followed by a pair of lefties, Jon Lester in Game 2 and Jose Quintana in Game 3. Righty Jake Arrieta — who’s dealing with a hamstring injury similar to Scherzer’s — will start Game 4, if needed.

The Nationals and Dusty Baker have taken a different tact, remaining silent about who will pitch and when.

“I think going into this, injuries or how people feel will affect the people that you put on the roster, your extra players and that type of thing,” Rizzo said, when asked whether Scherzer’s hamstring will affect Washington’s lineup construction.

“I think Max’s situation is such that we feel good about where he’s at,” he said. “I don’t think that would correlate any other move because of the hamstring, but we still haven’t decided on the last one or two players on the roster.

“It’s going to be contingent on how people progress. We’re looking at Brian Goodwin (groin strain) in the workouts, see how he’s feeling, how he’s moving, how he’s running, and some other different guys taking the last piece of that roster and see how it’ll improve us for a short five-game series.”

“It’s gonna be a fun series to watch,” Rizzo said. “I’m looking forward to taking on the Cubs. They’re wearing the crown right now, we’re trying to dethrone them, but until somebody does, they’re the champs and we’ve got to take it to ’em.”

Jayson Werth remarked to Thomas Boswell earlier in the week that the Nats really seem to be “clicking at the right time.”

The Nats wanted their lineup to get hot at the right time. Well, look what just happened. Final-week OPS marks of Zimmerman, Murphy, Rendon, Trea Turner, Taylor and Jayson Werth were: 1.287, 1.207, 1.064, .995, .948 and .833. Some poor pitching obscured the hitting. But is that hot enough for you?

“We may be clicking at the right time,” Werth said. What if Harper, who had a walk and two line-drive hits Sunday, joins the list? Except for catcher Matt Wieters, the Nats’ lineup has no hole.

Asked for an assessment of his club’s condition, Rizzo said, “I like the approaches that we’ve taken recently. Harp has a good final game. He squared up a few baseballs, which is encouraging.”

“I look at it this way,” he said. “We’ve gone into the playoffs hot as can be, we’ve gone into the playoffs cold as can be. Once the National Anthem comes and people are all fired up, your batting average, your ERA — everything’s .000 and we start from scratch.”

“You’re always one hit away from being hot, and you’re always one at-bat from going into a slump,” he said. “So it’s who gets hot, who stays hot, who maintains it and who performs when the lights are brightest. So that’s our approach. I like the health of where all our guys are at.

“That’s the important thing, when you’ve got Zimm firing on all cylinders and Jayson feels good, Bryce feels good, Murph. Our lineup is intact, which is helpful, which is encouraging. Our rotation feels good. Our bullpen feels good. I like where we’re at as far as preparation for a short series. A lot of things can happen in those five-gamers. It’s something that we’re going to embrace. We’re looking forward to it.”

Burke & Herbert Bank Fan Question of the Week

Was Jayson Werth’s final regular season game at Nats Park an emotional night for you? — Matt in Waldorf

“It definitely was,” Rizzo answered. “J-Dubya and I go way back. I’ve seen him since he’s been in high school in Springfield, Illinois. I played with his uncle in the minor leagues. So I know the family very well, I know Jayson very well.”

It’s been seven years since the Nationals signed Werth to his $126-million contract, a wildly unpopular move at the time, viewed as an overpay by fans and other clubs alike. That contract finally expires at the conclusion of this postseason.

“He’s a guy that we took a lot of criticism for when we signed him,” Rizzo said. “But we had a plan. We knew what this guy was all about. And as I said before, you sign the player, but you give these long-term guys to the character of the man. We certainly struck it rich with Jayson.”

“He taught us how to win,” he said. “He taught us how to be a Major League organization. I think that he brought a lot to the table that a lot of people didn’t account for when they were talking about the value of this player when we signed him. He’s been a big part of what we do here. He means a lot to me, personally and professionally. He’s a great guy to have around the ballpark and I don’t know where we’d be without him.”

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter

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