Should we read anything into the fact that Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Gio Gonzalez are lined up in that order in the Washington Nationals’ rotation for the final weekend of the regular season?
Dusty Baker told reporters before tonight’s game to go ahead.
“You guys will read in whatever you want,” Baker said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.
“I’m serious. That’s your job, to read into things. And then ask me and then I’ll tell you ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
“Either way, that’s a pretty good order isn’t it?”
So, after Strasburg tossed 7 2⁄3 scoreless against the Pittsburgh Pirates, earning his 15th win of the season, is it possible that he’ll start Game 1 of the Nationals’ NLDS matchup with the Chicago Cubs?
Are the Nationals more likely to use Max Scherzer for Game 1 since he’s been more durable and would seem a better choice if he has to go on short rest in the series?
Baker wasn’t about to give anything away.
“We know what we want to do, so we’ll let you know next Thursday or whatever it is,” he said after the Nationals’ 6-1 win over the Pirates.
But surely the Nationals will announce their NLDS starters before next Thursday, right?
“You really don’t have to name a roster till Friday,” Baker sort-of joked.
Strasburg was coming off a five-inning outing against the New York Mets in which he gave up three runs on seven hits, the first start in which he’d given up more than two earned runs in nine starts.
Over the eight-start stretch in which he’d allowed two earned runs or less, Strasburg went (5-1), posting a 0.54 ERA, 11 walks, 62 Ks, and a .164/.223/.222 line against in 50 innings.
In his final regular season start on Friday night, Strasburg retired the first fourteen Pirates’ batters he faced, striking out seven, but a sharp grounder to first base by outfielder Gregory Polanco bounced off a diving Ryan Zimmerman and shot into center for the first hit of the game for the visiting team.
Strasburg stranded the first batter to reach base, however, completing five scoreless innings on 63 pitches, preserving a 1-0 lead.
A HBP on Sean Rodriguez gave the Pirates their second base runner of the game, but a popped up bunt on pitch No. 2 of the inning, and 4-6-3 DP on pitch No. 3 ended a quick three-pitch inning that left Strasburg at 66 total after six.
Starling Marte singled to start the seventh for Pittsburgh’s second hit of the game, but was stranded three outs later as Strasburg completed a 15-pitch inning that left him at 81 total on the night.
Strasburg’s calf cramps returned in the eighth, so the Nationals got some action going in the bullpen, and his second walk of the inning ended his outing with two down.
• Stephen Strasburg’s Line vs PIT: 7.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks, 98 P, 63 S, 7/3 GO/FO.
• Strasburg’s final 2017 Stats: (W, 15-4), 2.52 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 47 BB (2.14 BB/9), 204 Ks (10.47 K/9), 28 GS, 175 1/3 IP.
“Stras was outstanding,” Baker said after the game. “He was outstanding from the very beginning, had a good breaking ball, good changeup, and very good fastball, and he had good tempo and good poise out there. It’s nice to see.”
“My fastball command was pretty good,” Strasburg told reporters in his own post game scrum.
“I was able to throw my curveball pretty well too, slider was surprisingly pretty good too.”
Strasburg threw 14 sliders overall, according to Brooksbaseball.net, and got ten swings and seven swings and misses with the pitch he’s used sparingly in 2017 after blaming it for the elbow issues he dealt with last season.
This season, he landed on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement, but came out strong and is set for his second postseason appearance at some point next weekend.
“You put in a lot of work in the offseason and stuff and you just try to listen to your arm the whole year and try not to tweak stuff too much,” Strasburg said when asked about achieving his goal of being available for the postseason.
“It’s got its ups and downs, but you’ve got to focus on what you can control.”
Asked if his decision to pitch exclusively out of the stretch this season helped him stay mostly healthy, Strasburg said, “Only time will tell.”
Baker was asked if it felt like the Nationals accomplished their mission by shepherding Strasburg through the regular season.
“Almost,” he said. “There’s always something nagging everybody at this time of year, because nobody goes the whole year without something bothering them.
“The only way that happens is if you haven’t played at all. It’s nice to see Stras get 200 strikeouts tonight.”
It will be nice to see him make his second postseason start too, whenever it happens.