Nats sticking with Tanner Roark, not Strasburg, in Game 4
What’s going on inside the Nationals’ clubhouse?
Already the target of fan backlash for his postseason pitching decisions, manager Dusty Baker is now taking more heat for a decision that might not even be his.
His announcement after Tuesday’s postponement of Game 4 of the NLDS that he’s sticking with fourth starter Tanner Roark instead of red-hot Stephen Strasburg on regular rest in a must-win makeup game Wednesday was met with immediate and intense blowback and criticism. As the day wore on, Strasburg became the target.
Almost everyone at Wrigley Field expected Baker to say that Strasburg (15-4, 2.52 ERA), who was dominant in a Game 1 loss at Nationals Park, would pitch instead, thanks to the extra day that would bring him to four days’ full rest. But Baker said Strasburg has been “under the weather” and that he preferred to keep his pitchers in rotation.
“It’s fine. We have full confidence in Tanner,” Baker said.
His strange answer could be cover for Strasburg, who actually threw his between-starts bullpen session Monday, according to a report in USA Today. Indications are that Strasburg balked at the suggestion of coming back for the postponed Game 4 rather than stay on his Game 5 schedule — regardless of whether that game would even be played.
Nats GM Mike Rizzo, in a testy exchange on Washington radio Wednesday morning, defending Strasburg saying the pitcher “looked bad, looked under the weather, looked sick” on Monday. “Very depleted. No energy or endurance.”
And so the Nats will not take advantage of the hottest pitcher in baseball on normal rest in a must-win playoff game, and it will be Roark (13-11, 4.67), who has pitched well against the Cubs, after all.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who is sticking with Jake Arrieta as planned, seemed to expect a Strasburg announcement while talking to reporters — before Baker did — after the game was called off.
“How many times have I said, ‘To be the best, you have to beat the best’?” Maddon said. “You’re going to face somebody good with the Nationals no matter what.’’
It’s just that Strasburg is really, really good.
But Baker said Strasburg hasn’t been feeling the best — not arm-wise but because of some type of flu-like symptom that Baker blamed on the team’s hotel air conditioning.
Strasburg, whose career arm problems have been more than well-documented, is said to be a creature of habit and routine. But he never has been counted among the fiercest personalities in the game, and once refused an offer to start the All-Star Game in his hometown of San Diego.
And he’s not feeling the best, so there’s that.
“And a lot of my team is under the weather with the change of weather and the air conditioning in the hotel and the air conditioning here,” Baker said. “It’s just this time of the year for mold around Chicago — I think it’s mold. I mean, I have it, too.”
The Nationals won’t have their hotel to kick around anymore because they checked out earlier in the day Tuesday, anticipating a flight from Chicago to Washington on Tuesday night — either for Game 5 on Thursday or to pack their belongings for the offseason.
“We have to change hotels now because they had not planned on us being there,” Baker said. “The hotels are in business, so we’ll stay in another hotel.”
Roark is 55-39 with a 3.41 ERA in his career, which includes a relief appearance in the postseason in 2014 and ’16. He was a Cubs fan growing up in downstate Wilmington.
“It’s pretty surreal to pitch in Wrigley [in the playoffs],” he said Monday, “and just the history that they have here and everything.”
Baker will have everyone but Strasburg available Wednesday, including Max Scherzer. Should Roark pitch well against Arrieta, everything might work out fine for the Nats.
“It’s very exciting,’’ Roark said, “and I’m anxious to get out there.”
That’s more than can be said for Strasburg, apparently.
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