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How Dave Martinez should manage the Nationals’ bullpen tonight, and how he shouldn't

Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin are the pitchers who have gotten the Nationals to the postseason. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

In Game 5 of the Washington Nationals’ 2016 National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Max Scherzer got Josh Reddick to fly out on his 98th pitch to protect a scant 1-0 lead. Scherzer had allowed four hits and two walks, working out of one bases-loaded jam.

Dusty Baker, then the manager, stuck with him for the seventh.

With the Nats hosting the wild-card game Tuesday night, this scene can’t repeat itself.

The Nationals say they not only have Scherzer prepared to start against the Milwaukee Brewers, but Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin ready to back them up. The strategy, then, is simple: Use them.

This is not a game for Wander Suero. It is not a game for Fernando Rodney. This is a game in which your best available arms need to be used to somehow cobble together 27 outs, and there’s no way Strasburg — on full rest — isn’t among the Nats’ best available arms.

Could we see a game in which no traditional relievers appear, and it’s some combination of Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin?

“We’re going to do everything we can to win Tuesday’s game, because if you don’t win Tuesday’s game, there’s no game Wednesday,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said Monday. “We’re going to do everything we have to do to win tomorrow.”

Nationals and Brewers enter NL wild-card game with different plans to get 27 outs

That’s a non-answer, which makes sense for Rizzo, given that he shouldn’t reveal strategy to the Brewers. But it says here that if Scherzer is pushing through the Brewers’ lineup for a third time, and the game is tight, there’s no way he should be sent back out there to start a new inning. Give that inning to Strasburg. Or, if two of the three hitters due up are lefties, give it to Corbin, who, for some reason, was allowed to throw 94 pitches Saturday.

I don’t say this solely because of what happened to Scherzer and Baker in 2016, when Joc Pederson, a left-handed hitter, opened the top of the seventh with a solo shot to tie the score. It was Scherzer’s last pitch, and the inning imploded from there. Remember who it imploded with? That would be Marc Rzepczynski to Blake Treinen to Sammy Solis to Shawn Kelley to Oliver Perez. By the end of the inning, the Nats were down 4-1.

The corresponding members of this Nationals bullpen — a bullpen that finished with a 5.68 ERA, worst in the National League and higher than any team since 2007 (except this year’s Orioles) — can’t be allowed to pitch against Milwaukee.

Now, there are some tricks to this. Should Strasburg pitch, he needs proper time to get ready because he’s not accustomed to warming up quickly, as relievers are. And you would prefer for him to start an inning rather than coming in with runners on base.

But Manager Dave Martinez said he has had the discussion with Strasburg.

“I brought Stephen into my office to talk to him and asked him if he’d be willing to come out of the bullpen,” Martinez said Monday. “His response was, ‘I’ve closed before — in college. I’m ready to do whatever you ask me to do. Our motto all year is to go 1-0, and I’m ready to go 1-0 on Tuesday.’”

Yeah, those relief appearances were a dozen years ago, when Strasburg was an 18-year-old freshman at San Diego State. Then, he saved seven games and struck out 47 hitters over 37 innings, all in relief.

Those are nice tidbits. What’s more important than Strasburg’s experience is Strasburg’s willingness. If that’s as the Nats say it is, then he should pitch.

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This isn’t a casual decision, and there are considerations. Listen to first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, a 15-year veteran who knows not only the game, but the psyche of players.

“I think certain guys have certain jobs and they’ve done it all year,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a lot easier said than done to ask someone to do something that they’ve never done. ‘Oh, just go out and get three outs in the big leagues against one of the better teams in one of the biggest moments, and it’ll be exactly the same.’

“In my opinion, you have to be careful doing too much of that. I think people get carried away with it and just assuming we’re not humans. If you’re used to doing something, it’s hard to do it in that situation.”

But we’re talking about Stephen Strasburg here.

“Do I think he could do it?” Zimmerman said. “Of course I do.”

So we have five acceptable names to pitch tonight: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. The first three are the arms that made this postseason appearance possible. The last two are your best relievers who have righted themselves at the right time. Doolittle has worked through his midseason issues and has allowed just two runs and a .111 batting average in his last nine appearances. Hudson hasn’t been scored upon in his last eight appearances, when opponents have a .194 on-base percentage against him.

To get 27 outs, that’s the list.

“We’ll put together a game-time strategy,” Rizzo said. “Of course, once the first pitch arrives, those plans go out the window. The manager’s got to manage the game the way he sees fit.”

Sure. Fine.

Davey, don’t treat this like it’s Max in mid-July. Take Strasburg at his word. Back up what you said Monday: that Corbin’s available, and use him if you need him. Treat it like Game 163 in your mentality, but not in your pitching strategy. Because if you do, there’ll be no Game 164.

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