Stephen Strasburg, as expected, will make his postseason debut Friday and start Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants. Nationals Manager Matt Williams made the announcement official at a Thursday afternoon news conference. Jordan Zimmermann will start Game 2 on Saturday and Doug Fister will start Game 3 on Monday in San Francisco.
“I know he’s ready,” Williams said of Strasburg, “and he’s excited about the opportunity.”
Pitching Strasburg in the opening game of the series allows the Nationals to use him again, on regular rest, in Game 5 if needed. Strasburg, the Nationals’ opening day starter for the past three seasons, did not pitch during the team’s 2012 playoff appearance because his season was ended early to protect his surgically repaired right arm.
“I try not to look back on what it was like two years ago,” Strasburg said. “I’m just trying to live in the present, and I’m excited for getting the chance now.”
While Zimmermann also seemed a candidate to start Game 1, Strasburg led the Nationals with 215 innings and finished with a share of the NL strikeout title with 242, a team record. He posted a 3.14 ERA and a 119 ERA+. He will square off against Giants right-hander Jake Peavy, a pitcher he grew up idolizing when Peavy was a star in San Diego, where Strasburg grew up.
“I think if I go out there and just compete, I’m going to be okay,” Strasburg said. “I can sleep well at night. I can’t really worry about whether I’m missing a spot or one side. It’s nice to recognize that, but I can’t really go out there and beat a dead horse with it. I have to pitch to my strengths and make them adjust to my game.”
In his 14 second-half starts, Strasburg had a 2.70 ERA, his velocity ticking up every month. In September, he had a 1.13 ERA over 32 innings.
“Over the last month, everybody has been really good,” Williams said. “They’ve pitched really well. And so Stephen in particular has gotten stronger as this month has gone on. His fastball velocity has ticked up each month during the course of the season and we all forget about the fact that he had surgery last offseason and it took him some time to get back to where he really wanted to be and I think he’s proven that over the last four to six weeks that he feels good. His location has been good. He’s healthy and strong and he’s looking forward to this opportunity.”
Zimmermann will likely be opposed by veteran right-hander Tim Hudson, who has dominated the Nationals throughout his career, and Doug Fister is expected to face off in Game 3 against Madison Bumgarner, the Giants’ best starter and a rematch of a Game 2 of the 2012 World Series. Although Williams admitted he had a starter chosen, he declined to name a Game 4 starter but Gio Gonzalez is the likely choice.
“I think it wasn’t an easy decision by any means but I think that’s a testament to the guys we have in the rotation,” Strasburg said. ” I think every single one of them is extremely talented. It’s going to take all 25 guys to get this job done.”