WASHINGTON — Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg won’t start Wednesday’s rescheduled National League Division Series Game 4 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field despite being on regular four days’ rest.
With Strasburg under the weather, Washington manager Dusty Baker decided to stick with Tanner Roark, who was slated to start Tuesday before the game was postponed due to inclement weather.
“We’re going to go as planned with Tanner,” Baker said about a half-hour after Major League Baseball announced that Game 4 instead will be played Wednesday at 4:08 p.m. ET.
Baker said several of his players are ill.
“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,” he said. “It’s just this time of the year for mold around Chicago — I think it’s mold. I mean, I have it, too.”
Given how dominant Strasburg has been, and given the Cubs hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, it seemed likely that Baker would opt to skip Roark and go with Strasburg on full rest.
After the All-Star break, Strasburg posted a 0.86 ERA, the second lowest ever by a pitcher in the second half of a season (minimum 10 starts). Then, in the NLDS opener last Friday, the 29-year-old right-hander was dominant, allowing three hits and no earned runs over seven innings, striking out 10 in a 3-0 defeat.
But despite Strasburg’s effectiveness, and despite facing elimination, Baker confirmed that Roark will get the nod Wednesday at Wrigley.
“Well, we decided to stay with Tanner because, No. 1, you know, he was slated (to pitch Tuesday),” Baker said.
Baker said Strasburg threw a bullpen session Tuesday, which would typically line him up to pitch Thursday for a potential Game 5. But a Nationals spokesperson later Tuesday said Baker misspoke and that Strasburg’s bullpen session actually took place Monday, and that the primary reason the former top pick wouldn’t start Wednesday was because he isn’t feeling well.
“Didn’t work out for Stras for his bullpen day, and we’re all creatures of habit, and plus, we’ve got full confidence in Tanner,” Baker said. “And Stras, it would have been better, because he’s feeling under the weather, like a lot of my team is. So this day actually comes as a plus for our team.”
Earlier Tuesday, Daniel Murphy’s voice sounded noticeably hoarse during his news conference. When asked how he was feeling, Murphy attributed his gruff tone to Washington’s dramatic come-from-behind win Saturday, which featured eighth-inning home runs from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman.
“I was extremely excited Game 2 of the NLDS when Bryce hit that homer and Zimm hit his homer,” Murphy said. “I lost my voice. I feel good, though, physically. Thanks for asking.”
After finishing second in the NL with a .322 average during the regular season, Murphy is hitting .091 in the playoffs (1-for-11).
He’s one of many Washington players who are struggling at the plate. In three games against Chicago, the Nationals are hitting .121 as a team. Outside of their five-run outburst in the eighth inning of Game 2, they’ve scored just two runs in the other 25 innings.
If they lose this series, it would be the fourth time in as many tries since moving to Washington that the Nationals have been eliminated in the NLDS after coming in as the higher seed.
Last year, when they fell to the Dodgers in five games, Roark started Game 2 and did not factor in the decision. This season, the 31-year-old hurler was 13-11 with a 4.67 ERA. Strasburg went 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA that ranked third in the NL.
The Cubs, meanwhile, did not change their plans at starter; Jake Arrieta, who has battled a hamstring injury, will take the mound as had been planned before the postponement.
“Jake’s really primed for this opportunity,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s done a great job of rehabbing his leg. He feels very good arm- and leg-wise right now. I’m real eager to watch him play.”