WASHINGTON — With the Washington Nationals facing NLDS elimination in a rain-postponed Game 4, manager Dusty Baker is holding ace Stephen Strasburg in reserve for Tanner Roark.
Roark was originally scheduled to pitch on Tuesday, facing former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, but rain in the forecast caused a bizarre late decision to postpone the game until Wednesday.
According to Baker, the decision hinged on the fact that Strasburg threw a bullpen session on Tuesday while the teams awaited a decision, in anticipation for starting Game 5 on Thursday. To keep him on schedule and give him proper rest, the team needs to stick with that plan.
The good news is that Strasburg is one of the best pitchers in baseball and would be available in a game where the Nats could clinch the series. The problem is that if the Nats, who trail 2-1 in the series, lose Game 4 then there is no Game 5.
The Nats’ season could end on Wednesday afternoon with a moderately rested Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer on the bench.
Knowing that Tuesday’s game was in jeopardy thanks to the weather, the Nats could have just held Strasburg out from his bullpen sessions, giving them options if the game changed. Baker implied that that wasn’t an option:
That’s a bizarre position to take, considering the extreme circumstances that pitchers frequently pitch under in the playoffs. Starters Randy Johnson and Clayton Kershaw have both made relief appearances in must-win games when they were at the top of their games. Closers frequently go two innings in order to preserve a lead.
Keeping Strasburg on a schedule when that schedule isn’t guaranteed seems reckless, and it could be Baker who feels the pinch if the Nats lose.
Despite winning the NL East in each of his two seasons at the helm, Baker’s Nats are built and poised to play for a World Series title. Baker’s contract is up after this season, and he would benefit from a deep run in the playoffs. Given the pedigree of the team, he likely loses at the negotiating table if this team can’t produce in the playoffs.
The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes also offered this tidbit, which could help explain some of the decision-making:
Everyone’s fears can be allayed if Roark performs well on Wednesday, securing and win and giving Strasburg a chance to start in Game 5. If he can’t, Baker reportedly has every other pitcher at his disposal, including Scherzer, if needed:
Roark has three career playoff appearances, including one start last season vs. the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLDS. He went 4.1 innings in that game, giving up 7 hits and two wins, but secured a 5-2 win.
He is also 4-2 in seven regular season appearances vs. the Cubs, pitching to a 4.06 ERA. He is even better at Wrigley, sporting a 3-1 record and a 3.24 ERA. Roark is 20-14 in day games, with a 2.99 ERA.
Scherzer’s last relief appearance came in 2008 as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitching staff.