Nationals GM Mike Rizzo passionately defended the organization’s decision to start Tanner Roark, instead of Stephen Strasburg, in Game 4 of their division series against the Cubs.
UPDATE: Strasburg Now Starting Game 4
Nats manager Dusty Baker announced Tuesday — after Game 4 was formally postponed until Wednesday at 4:08 p.m. — that there would be no changes on the mound, despite an added day of rest.
Strasburg last pitched five days ago — in a 3-0 Game 1 loss — but felt “under the weather” on Tuesday, according to Baker, who noted several other Nats players were also feeling similar. Baker noted the high mold count in the city.
Asked during his weekly radio appearance with The Sports Junkies to define ‘under the weather,’ Rizzo said Wednesday morning, “Sick and not feeling well, and too sick to perform at your level, or of the level of the replacement that we have going in for ya. That’s probably the most important thing.”
Rizzo says Strasburg spoke with pitching coach Mike Maddux after throwing a bullpen session on Monday. That’s when it became clear Strasburg wasn’t performing to his capability.
“[He] looked bad, looked under the weather, looked sick,” Rizzo said. “Threw his bullpen and was just very, very depleted and no energy. He was just toasted really, really fast in the bullpen. Had no endurance.”
“To us, that’s the biggest key,” he said. “He didn’t improve and got worse yesterday, as far as how he was feeling, and we just decided to go with a guy that has won 15, 16 and 13 games in the big leagues for us and is a reliable starter.”
“We’d rather have Strasburg on full five days’ rest at 100 percent, feeling great, but that’s not the case,” he said. “We feel that with Tanner pitching the way he’s pitching — at full-go, 100 percent, prepared and focused and set to pitch this game throughout the playoffs — we feel that’s our best chance to win Game 4 and that’s who we’re going with.”
Asked how the Nats can commit to Strasburg pitching in Game 5 (if needed), if he’s under the weather now, Rizzo said, “Well, hopefully he’s ready by Game 5. It’s another day to get well, and if he’s still too sick to pitch, then it’s all hands on deck again. We’ve got Gio on full rest. We’ll have to see.”
“Did Stras fight for the ball?” Rizzo was asked.
“Yeah. He wanted to pitch,” Rizzo said. “What he told Mike Maddux was, he said he’d give us everything he has. He said he’s not sure how much that is and how long he can go. And that’s the decision we made as a unit, like we always make all these decisions, that we’re going to do what’s best for the team.”
“This isn’t about Stephen Strasburg pitching through adversity,” he clarified. “This is about winning Game 4 of the playoffs, and we feel with Tanner Roark at 100 percent, on full rest, and full preparation to pitch Game 4 from the beginning of the playoffs, he gives us a better chance than a depleted, sick Stephen Strasburg.”
“If we get to Game 5, if we’re fortunate enough to get there,” he added, “we’ll see where we’re at with Stras.”
There was also some initial confusion Tuesday night, in terms of what was being reported to the public, about when Strasburg last threw a bullpen session in preparation for his next start, which could potentially contribute to his availability.
The interview took a sour turn when Rizzo was pressed further to explain how this transpired.
“Hey. Fellas. Fellas. Fellas. We’re gonna pitch the guy that gives us the best chance to win Game 4,” Rizzo said. “And in our opinion — you may differ, but you have no credibility in this, because you don’t know what Stras was like, what he looked like, what he feels like, what Roark is like and how he’s prepared for this.”
“We’re putting out a guy there that was 15-10 in ’14, 16-10 in ’16, and 13-11 this year,” he said. “We’re putting out a guy at 100 percent, prepared for this start that we think’s gonna win Game 4. Now, you don’t like it? I get it. Fine.
“But we’re judged on winning this playoff series. And do you think for one second, if I think Stephen Strasburg, as he is, gives us a better chance to win Game 4 than Tanner Roark, I wouldn’t pitch Stephen Strasburg? Why? Because I don’t want to win this game, or what? So wake up, fellas. Come on.”
“No, but Mike, I’ll take offense to that,” Eric Bickel said. “Of course you want to win it. But if you know deep down — and I’m just gonna take this tact — you know deep down that Stephen doesn’t perform well when he’s not just right, so you’re making the right call for your team, but fans have the right to question why this guy won’t at least attempt to put his balls on the line.”
“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.'”
“And we made a decision that we want 100-percent Tanner Roark — who wins 15, 16 and 13 games over the three years he was a starter — over a depleted Stephen Strasburg,” he said. “Asked and answered. How many times do you want to go through it?”
Rizzo went on to say it’s “all hands on deck” for Game 4: “Except Stras, because he’s gonna pitch Game 5.”
The GM went on to note that Max Scherzer, who pitched Game 3, could probably give you an inning “any day of the week,” if needed. “He’s a tough guy,” he said.