Nationals GM Mike Rizzo took the podium in Wrigley Wednesday to clarify how Stephen Strasburg came to be the starting pitcher in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
Strasburg last pitched five days ago — a 3-0 Game 1 loss — and it seemed the weather delay was a blessing in disguise to the Nationals, as Strasburg could now pitch in Game 4 on regular rest.
But after the game was officially postponed, Nats manager Dusty Baker announced that Tanner Roark would still be taking the mound in the do-or-die game against the Cubs, who lead the best-of-five series 2-1.
Baker explained that Strasburg had been feeling “under the weather” at the time he needed to make the call, bizarrely citing a high mold count in Chicago as a contributing factor.
By the time Rizzo hopped on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday morning for his appearance with The Sports Junkies, a half-day’s worth of reports had already sprung loose, one indicating that Strasburg had told the club he couldn’t pitch.
That was enough for Rizzo to take a defensive tone on the radio, which he surely did the second Strasburg’s mental fortitude came into question.
“Fans have the right to question why this guy won’t at least attempt to put his balls on the line,” Junkies host Eric Bickel said.
“He is attempting to put his balls on the line,” Rizzo said. “He went out and threw a bullpen and said, ‘Mike Maddux, pitching coach, I’m gonna give you everything I have. I don’t know how much it is.'”
As it turns out, the confusing nature of the day’s developments — which saw Strasburg go from being unavailable to pitch, to maybe pitching, to definitely pitching — hinged entirely on Strasburg’s conversations with Maddux.
“After his start on Friday, a couple of days afterwards he started feeling flu-like symptoms,” Rizzo told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “And that continued for the next couple of days. Fevers, chills, acute sinusitis.”
“And when he threw his bullpen Monday, he was feeling really bad,” he said. “He had no endurance, he was really weak — just wasn’t feeling great. He battled through it.
“We saw our doctors, they aggressively put him on an antibiotic regimen, anti-inflammatories and fluid IVs. He’s taken several IVs the last couple of days, last night, and again today.”
“At the time of the rain-out Tuesday, when we were gonna announce our starter for the rain game, we went to Stras and he told me that he wanted to take the ball,” Rizzo said. “He said he’d give you everything he’s got, but he doesn’t know how much he has.”
“We felt at that time that it wasn’t enough,” he said, “when we have a guy like Tanner Roark there that’s able to start. Tanner was prepared. It was his day to start, and we felt very, very comfortable giving him the ball in Game 4.”
In steps confusion.
“And then, as of today, we switched Stras’s antibiotics, gave him a higher dose, IVs and fluids throughout the evening, and this morning he felt much more like Stephen Strasburg,” Rizzo said. “So he came into the clubhouse, went to the manager’s office and said that ‘I want to start this game.'”
Rizzo went on to explain that, at the time of his radio appearance with The Junkies, Maddux had already spoken with Strasburg and gotten a positive update on his health. Only… Rizzo had yet to be updated on that update.
“Again, that was early this morning, 8 a.m. central time, and Mike Maddux, our pitching coach, had gotten a call from Stephen prior to that that I was not aware of,” he said. “Said he felt better. They would discuss it when he got to the ball park, and when he got to the ball park, Stephen looked closer to the Stephen Strasburg that we know, and we made the decision that he was our best option for Game 4.”
Asked about a report that Strasburg had previously declined to pitch in Game 4, Rizzo said, “If you’re alluding to the fact that, did the media pressure him into starting, I don’t think Stephen Strasburg cares about what the media thinks about him, what it says about him.”
“He wanted the ball because he wants to win this game and he thinks that he’s our best option,” he said. “He’s an ultra-competitor, and he feels good enough that he feels that gives us a chance to win.”
In the end, that’s all it took. Well, that and a battery of IVs, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. The real story, it seems, is not one of a pitcher’s lack of desire to pitch, but of everything he was willing to put his body through just to try and pitch, and give his team the best chance to win.
“The fact that he was much more like the real Stephen Strasburg, we felt that that Stephen Strasburg gave us a much better chance to win Game 4,” Rizzo said. “And that’s it.”