After weathering criticisms from baseball figures, politicians, and fans alike, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg is expected to start Wednesday's win-or-go-home game against the Chicago Cubs, a reversal from the decision announced by manager Dusty Baker less than 24 hours ago.
After starting Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Max Scherzer in the first three games of their best-of-five National League Division Series, the Nationals were set to trot out Tanner Roark for Game 4, but when the Tuesday contest was postponed due to rain, it appeared to be a major stroke of luck for the team. Trailing 2-1 in the series, they could increase their chances of beating the Cubs by penciling in Strasburg, who would be on normal rest for a Wednesday start.
But instead, Baker reiterated his commitment to Roark when speaking to the media on Tuesday. While he stated that the choice was made because Strasburg had thrown a bullpen session on Tuesday, a team spokesman later said that Baker "misspoke" and that their ace would be on the bench because "he’s under the weather and his endurance is down," per Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post.
While Roark has posted a solid 3.90 ERA since July 16, Strasburg is one of the best pitchers in baseball, with regular season numbers like a 2.52 ERA, 204 strikeouts, and 6.5 Wins Above Replacement to prove it. What's more, the Nationals signed Strasburg to a $175 million contract extension in May 2016, presumably with the expectation that he would be there to start crucial postseason games.
The decision to roll with Roark looked like a huge missed opportunity for the Nationals. It drew strong reactions from around the game, with a number of respected baseball figures criticizing Strasburg for his inability to pitch.
"If I'm his teammate and I walked into the clubhouse the next day, I can't make eye contact with this dude," said retired catcher David Ross, who won last year's World Series with the Cubs. "This is as bad as it gets for me as a teammate."
To be fair, Baker did mention that several members of his team are fighting through illnesses that he believes were caused by mold allergies. All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy sounded hoarse during his Tuesday news conference.
"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," said Baker. "It's just this time of the year for mold around Chicago — I think it's mold. I mean, I have it, too."
Luckily for Nationals fans, it now appears that Strasburg will indeed start on Wednesday, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports. It turns out the 29 year old threw did his bullpen session on Monday, giving him enough rest to take the mound for Game 4. It's unknown whether Strasburg's status changed due to public opinion, improved health, or some combination of the two.
Strasburg is a three-time All-Star, but he's also earned a reputation as a fragile pitcher. The San Diego native underwent Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2010, and in 2012, his first full year back from the procedure, he was held to a strict innings cap that forced the end of his season in early September.
Game time is set for 4:08 p.m. at Wrigley Field. In the event of a Nationals win, Game 5 will be on Thursday at 8:08 p.m.
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