After Game 4 of the National League Division Series was postponed due to rain Tuesday, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker announced that Stephen Strasburg was “under the weather” and that Tanner Roark would start Wednesday’s rescheduled game with Washington’s season on the line. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo defended the surprising decision during an interview with The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, describing Strasburg’s condition as “very, very depleted” and repeatedly stating that a healthy Roark gave the Nationals a better chance to win than a sick Strasburg. Rizzo was also asked if the Nationals could change their mind before first pitch and start Strasburg after all.
“Legally you could make the switch,” Rizzo said. “I don’t anticipate that happening, but legally, yeah, you could.”
It happened, and the Nationals made the switch after a wild and speculation-filled few hours. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi was the first to report that Strasburg might start, despite what Rizzo said, after chatting with Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras. “Strasburg could still pitch” became “Strasburg will likely pitch” and eventually “Strasburg will pitch” in Game 4.
After his initial report, Morosi appeared as a guest of Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan and was asked what prompted the change. Some suggested that Boras, who told Morosi that Strasburg had the flu, was calling the shots.
“I do not know this for certain, but … this is a change that has come from Stephen Strasburg himself,” Morosi said before Strasburg was officially announced as the Nationals’ Game 4 starter. “Whether it was those close to him that he leans on, whether it was his own thought process, the overwhelming narrative — and I know narrative has a negative connotation sometimes in our media world today — but the overwhelming narrative was one of, when you’ve got a pitcher who has a $175 million contract and he’s on regular rest, even if he’s not feeling well, he should be on the mound today. I think Stephen is probably now aware, probably more than ever before, of this. We know what happened in 2012. Last year he was unable to pitch because he was injured and it was sort of touch and go if he would’ve been available for the NLCS had the Nationals advanced. And I think that he does not want to have to listen this conversation about him for potentially years to come.”
Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about what happened in 2012, when the Nationals shut down Strasburg toward the end of his first full regular season back from Tommy John surgery in the interest of preserving his future health. As a result, he wasn’t available to pitch in the NLDS, which the Nationals lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals. Hundreds of thousands of words had already been written and spoken, it seemed, about Strasburg not starting Wednesday before someone had a change of heart.
“I think that any objective analysis here would say, hey, listen, you’re now financially secure for generations in your family, you’ve got $175 million coming, so you’re good there, and take a step back: You’ve got this year and next year with Bryce Harper and that’s it,” Morosi continued. “So, if you’re not going to take the mound now, there’s no promise that you’re going to make the playoffs next year, so this might be your last chance to take the mound with Bryce Harper behind you in a playoff game. And if he doesn’t take the mound, I think that this becomes an unchangeable part of his resume forever. There have been strong things written this morning — Barry Svrluga’s column was strong and I think very fair, which included some comments from David Ross and Mark Teixeira. When you think about Barry and then players like Mark and David, people with a lot of respect and credibility in the game, with some very pointed remarks here that are all very well founded. I think that Stephen realizes in a certain sense that if you don’t take the mound today, you’re on the wrong side of baseball history in a certain sense. You get the benefit of the doubt for 2012. There were other people with voices there, including Scott Boras, including the organization, but now you’ve got your contract, and I think that Stephen Strasburg — and again, I don’t know this for certain — but I do believe that he woke up today with a very sobering sense of the circumstances here and the stakes for his career and I think that if there does prove to be a definitive change here, it will have been initiated by Stephen Strasburg because of those reasons.”
During his news conference before Game 4, Rizzo said he didn’t think Strasburg cared what the media said and that the decision to pitch was ultimately on Strasburg. There were no shortage of reactions on Twitter to one of the stranger days in Nationals history while Strasburg’s status for Game 4 was in doubt. The next round of takes will depend on how the Nats’ under-the-weather ace performs in Chicago in the biggest game of his life. It’s enough to make one sick.
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