Dusty Baker told reporters before Wednesday’s game that Stephen Strasburg was not quite 100%, but was good to go in Game 4 with the Chicago Cubs, with Washington’s season on the line in Wrigley Field, down 2-1 in the best-of-five NLDS. Strasburg slept well, woke up feeling better, and called his pitching coach Mike Maddux to tell him he wanted the ball.
“Woke up this morning, and you know, I wouldn't say I felt like great but, you know, I felt like I was better than what I was the day before,” Strasburg explained.
“And so games like this, you have to go out there and give it everything you have, whatever it is.
“So I called Mad Dog in the morning and said, "Just give me the ball." That's what he did.”
“He just said, ‘I'm feeling a whole lot better,’ and, ‘I want the ball.’ That was kind of the gist of the conversation,” Baker said.
“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. And that's it,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters before the game.
Baker was asked what he could expect to get from Strasburg, who recovered from flu-like symptoms in time to make the start, after Tanner Roark had initially been named the Nationals’ Game 4 starter.
“Well, you know, I'd say he's a good 95[%] -- again, I'm not a doctor. He's 90-plus percent well.
“At this point in time, he knows what's at stake. And also at this point, how many guys are 100 percent? Like I said, if you're 100 percent at this point in time of the year, there's a good chance you haven't played very much or you came in later in the year hurt.
“So he just told us he's going to give us what he has. Generally, that's pretty good.”
Pretty good doesn’t quite describe Strasburg on the mound against the Cubs in what ended up a 5-0 win that guaranteed a Game 5 tonight in the nation’s capital.
Strasburg tossed seven scoreless on 106 pitches, 72 of them strikes, struck 12 batters, walked two, and limited Chicago to just three hits, throwing 71.4% of his fastballs for strikes, and mixing in a brutal changeup which he threw 32 times, inducing 15 swinging strikes from Cubs’ hitters.
“The changeup was spectacular,” Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon said after the loss. “We did not -- hit that one ball good early to left field that the wind knocked down. Otherwise, we didn't have a good time against them.”
“Gets ahead in the count. Fastball command is outstanding,” Maddon continued, as he broke down Strasburg’s outing. “He's really able to throw his fastball for a strike when he wants to, where he wants to. His curve was really good, too. He had everything going on tonight. If you don't get him early in the count, it's really difficult because he has these two other outstanding pitches to throw deeper in the count, curveball, changeup, which he did.
“The last time we played him, we tried to jump him early but we didn't have a lot of success in Washington, either. He's pitching absolutely at the top of his game right now. That is really good stuff; give him credit.”
In two starts in the NLDS, Strasburg’s allowed six hits, with two unearned runs scoring in his 14 innings of work, over which he’s walked three and struck out 22.
Baker said he wasn’t surprised by what the right-hander did once he decided to take the ball.
“I could see the focus and determination in his eyes, you know what I mean, when he came in the office and we talked to him. You know, he's a man of few words, but the words he said, you know, gave us every indication that he was ready.”
Strasburg said he was a little surprised, actually.
“I'm surprised I was able to hang in there,” he admitted. “But again, I think it's just those situations where, you know, try and break the game down, keep it simple, and just know that going in, whatever I have in the tank, I'm giving it everything I have.
“You know, I really just stuck to one pitch at a time and before I knew it, it was seven innings down.”
Asked if he felt he had something to prove on the mound, Strasburg said, “Not to you guys, no.
“No, you guys create the drama,” he told reporters.
“But I know, like I said earlier, I have faith in every other guy in this clubhouse and I know the coaching staff feels the same.
“So we're in it together, and when one guy goes down, you have to trust that the other guy is going to pick up the slack.”
Now the Nationals are one win away from making it to the NLCS for the first time since baseball returned to Washington, D.C. in 2005.
So, is it too early to ask who is going to be starting Game 5 tomorrow night?
“We're not sure yet,” Baker said.
“So we're trying to -- we're going to make up our mind, see the condition of everybody and like I said, I'm not sure. I'm not trying to be coy at all because that was the theme of the day, you know, with Stras.
“You know, whoever it is, I hope they pitch like Stras did today.”
But most likely either Tanner Roark or Gio Gonzalez, right?
“Yeah. I would venture to say, yeah, Tanner or Gio, or both.”