Nationals manager Dusty Baker indicated he’d like to extend the magic created after Strasburg announced himself fit to start just a few hours before delivering seven scoreless innings in Wednesday’s 5-0 win over the Cubs in Game 4 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who blanked Washington for seven innings in a Game 1 victory, will take the mound for the Cubs.
Gonzalez or Roark would seem to be the only options to start Thursday’s decisive Game 5 at Nationals Park. Baker will wait until a few hours before the scheduled first pitch and then hope to get something similar to what Strasburg provided.
“We’re going to make up our mind, see the condition of everybody, and I’m not sure,” Baker said. “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.”
Leading up to Game 4, Baker indicated on Wednesday that Max Scherzer would have been available on one day of rest for an inning of relief. With Scherzer not needed after Strasburg dominated the Cubs, the NL Cy Young Award candidate should be available out of the ‘pen in Game 5 for a multi-inning stint on two days’ rest. As far as the rest of the relief corps, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle each pitched an inning on Wednesday, while Brandon Kintzler, who last appeared Monday for 1 1/3 innings, did not pitch and should be well-rested.
And whoever doesn’t start between Roark and Gonzalez should be available out of the bullpen, giving the Nationals a robust relief corps for the winner-take-all game.
Roark had been set to start Game 4 until it was postponed for 24 hours because of rain and set up the option to start Strasburg on regular rest.
Strasburg convinced the Nationals he had recovered from the flu-like symptoms he had battled throughout this week. While Roark now stands as an option for Thursday’s game, Baker could opt to go with Gonzalez, who got a no-decision in Washington’s Game 2 win.
Gonzalez has not pitched beyond the fifth in any of his five career postseason starts, but the Nationals have won three of the games he’s started in the NLDS. The veteran southpaw allowed three runs over five innings against the Cubs on Saturday, then watched his Nationals teammates overcome an early deficit with a decisive five-run eighth.
This would not be Gonzalez’s first experience pitching in an elimination game. He allowed three runs over five innings in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS and was in line for the win before the Cardinals erupted for four ninth-inning runs and handed the Nationals a 9-7 loss.
Roark made his only previous postseason start when the Nationals beat the Dodgers in Game 2 of last year’s NLDS. He was once again introduced to a big-game environment when he pitched for Team USA during this year’s World Baseball Classic.
When Roark posted a 5.25 ERA through his first 16 starts, some Nationals felt he was feeling the lingering effects of missing some of his normal preseason preparations while pitching in the Classic. He turned things around near the end of June and proceeded to allow three runs or fewer in 12 of his final 14 starts.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.