The Nationals appear ready to give Game 2 starter Jordan Zimmermann the ball for a possible Game 5 start on Thursday in Washington.
Manager Matt Williams said Strasburg, the Nationals’ Game 1 starter, will be available to make the first relief appearance of his major league career, in any role, from long relief of starter Gio Gonzalez to a late-inning short burst.
“It could be all of the above,” Williams said. “If for some reason, something goes haywire, Gio gets hit with a ball or something, you never know what can happen, then Stephen could be available for that. He could be available late. He could be available if we ever got into a situation like we got into with Game 2, where we play extra innings. The game will present it. But he’s available for all of those.”
Strasburg warmed up in the outfield before Tuesday night’s Game 4. Not long after he finished his early-afternoon work, Zimmermann climbed the bullpen mound and threw a regular session, about 25 pitches or so. Zimmermann typically throws a bullpen session two days before he starts.
If the Nationals win Game 4, Zimmermann could start Game 5 on normal rest, five days after he came within one out of a three-hit shutout in the Nationals’ 18-inning, 2-1 loss in Game 2.
Williams did not tip his hand as to which pitcher would start Game 5. “We have a couple guys that would certainly be ready for Game 5,” Williams said. “But we don’t know how the game is going to present itself today.” But he also said Zimmermann would be available Tuesday night only in “extreme emergency.”
Strasburg has never pitched in relief as a professional. In 2007, his freshman season, Strasburg saved seven games as the closer for San Diego State. Williams’s decision to make Strasburg available, though, has nothing to do with experience and everything to do with urgency.
“It’s do or die tonight,” Williams said. “We don’t know what the game is going to present. We don’t know what kind of situation we’re going to be in. And if Stephen is the right guy for that, then he’s the right guy for that. We have to make sure that we account for him getting ready.”
Reliever Tyler Clippard, whom the Nationals brought to the pregame news conference, had his own ideas about Game 5.
“After long talks with Matt, he’s chosen me to be the Game 5 starter,” Clippard said before standing up at his chair. As reporters burst into laughter, Clippard sat back down and asked, “What’s so funny?” And then he laughed, too.