The Washington Nationals avoided listing a starter for Sunday’s game for a few days, which seemed like a rather strange thing to do given that everyone in their rotation is healthy and little seemed likely to alter any plans. On Saturday, they finally named Stephen Strasburg, who last pitched Tuesday against the Miami Marlins and will therefore be on regular rest.
One logical reason the Nationals might have held off is their magic number. Had they been able to clinch Saturday, perhaps the Nationals would have turned to A.J. Cole to start Sunday, thereby pushing everyone else back a few days. But they begin Saturday’s game with a magic number of three, unable to clinch the division regardless of what the Marlins do, and therefore will certainly have something to play for Sunday.
“No, that had nothing to do with it,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “[Strasburg] felt great. He wanted to pitch on rotation. And he’s got a pretty good thing going right now. [Clinching] had nothing to do with it.”
The Nationals might have more to play for anyway. A few hours after they held on to beat the Phillies, 11-10, on Friday night, the Dodgers lost their 13th game in 14 tries, meaning the Nationals gained another game in what suddenly looks like a race for the best record in the National League. As of Saturday, the Nationals are 5 1/2 games behind the Dodgers for the best record in baseball, the closest they have been in some time.
For much of the second half, the Dodgers looked certain to threaten the record books with one of the most impressive and dominant seasons in recent memory. They are sliding back to the norm now, which might just allow the Nationals to seize home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Baker has noticed.
“We’re still trying to win as many games as we can because a month ago, people thought catching the Dodgers was an impossibility,” Baker said. “Now, we’re a lot closer than we were before. Plus, they’re coming in here for three days.”
Even though the Dodgers come to D.C. for a three-game set next weekend, Baker said he and the Nationals are not catering their pitching plans specifically to that series. By jumping straight to Strasburg on Sunday, the Nationals are skipping Cole, who would be on turn Sunday after starting Monday. Gio Gonzalez could start Tuesday on an extra day of rest, and Washington could go with Tanner Roark on Wednesday and Max Scherzer on Thursday, keeping the rotation in order and omitting cole.
Edwin Jackson, Saturday night’s starter, would then be on turn to start Friday against the Dodgers. Because of the day off Monday, no one would be on regular rest for Saturday’s game. Cole could start that game. Then the Nationals could have their pick of rested starters, as Strasburg and Gonzalez would have enough rest to start Sunday. By starting Jackson and Cole in the first two games, the Nationals would show the Dodgers two starters they will not see in the playoffs, therefore avoiding giving Los Angeles a last-minute look at their top starters before a potential postseason matchup. Baker said he would prefer to use his best.
“You don’t avoid anybody. It’s just how the rotation works out,” Baker said. “You prefer to have your main horses, but it doesn’t always work out like that.”
One of the horses Baker hopes to have next weekend is Jayson Werth, who has missed the last two games with a sore shoulder. Werth was hit by a pitch in that shoulder while on rehab assignment and is still feeling the effects of the blow. He is 0 for his last 20 at the plate.
“We want him to get well. We feel that’s more important than him to get his timing because if you’re not well, the timing doesn’t do anything. It just creates bad habits,” Baker said. “So me any Jayson talk every day. We decided this weekend — no, because we have an off-day Monday. Then we’ll reassess the situation on Tuesday.”
Howie Kendrick has been playing left field in Werth’s place, as he did when Werth was still rehabbing his broken foot.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (87-54)
Trea Turner SS
Howie Kendrick LF
Daniel Murphy 2B
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Anthony Rendon 3B
Michael A. Taylor CF
Alejandro De Aza RF
Raudy Read C
Edwin Jackson P
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (53-88)
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Freddy Galvis SS
Nick Williams RF
Rhys Hoskins 1B
Odubel Herrera CF
Maikel Franco 3B
Hyun Soo Kim LF
Cameron Rupp C
Mark Leiter P
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