CHICAGO – Stephen Strasburg, afflicted with perhaps the most scrutinized and publicized case of flu in sports since Michael Jordan took the floor for the Bulls against the Jazz 20 years ago, was the Nationals’ elimination Game 4 starting pitcher Wednesday after all following a change in treatment.
And after he and the Nationals were ripped and criticized for bypassing him in the first place.
“We switched Stras’ antibiotics, gave him a higher dose, IV fluids throughout [Tuesday] evening, and this morning he felt much more like Stephen Strasburg. So he came into the clubhouse and went to the manager’s office and said that, ‘I want to start this game,’” Washington GM Mike Rizzo said.
“The fact that he was much more like the real Stephen Strasburg, we felt that THAT Stephen Strasburg gave us a much better chance to win Game 4.”
On Tuesday, after rain pushed the game back a day, Nationals manager Dusty Baker announced the team planned to stick with Tanner Roark, the originally planned Game 4 starter. That was despite a move to Wednesday providing Strasburg with four off days since his Friday start.
Strasburg was magnificent in Game 1 against Chicago, striking out a franchise-record 10. With Chicago poised to advance with a win, Strasburg appeared the logical choice.
“At the time of the rainout Tuesday, when we were going to announce our starter for the rain game, we went to Stras and he told me he wanted to take the ball. He said, ‘I’ll give you everything I’ve got,’ but he doesn’t know how much he has,” Rizzo said. “We felt at that time it wasn’t enough when we have a guy like Tanner Roark there that’s able to start.”
A report, which Rizzo denied, claimed Strasburg declined the chance to pitch.
“The statement was inaccurate,” Rizzo said. “Did the media pressure him into starting this? I don’t think Stephen Strasburg cares about what the media thinks about him or says about him.”
Both Rizzo and manager Dusty Baker — who said Strasburg is “90-plus percent well” — insisted there was no internal pressure whatsoever on Strasburg to pitch.
“We didn’t put that pressure on him, and I don’t think that he would succumb to the pressure from the public or the media or anybody,” Baker said.
“I know he didn’t get any from the coaches. I’d be very, very, very surprised if he got any from his teammates or any kind of peer pressure,” Baker said. “No, this was a decision made by him.”
The Nationals still seek the first playoff series victory in franchise history, so Baker and Rizzo both claimed an “all hands on deck” scenario that included Max Scherzer if necessary.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he left Wrigley Field on Tuesday with a “hunch” Strasburg would pitch. As late as Wednesday morning, in a radio interview, Rizzo maintained Roark still would start. The GM, though, said Strasburg had called pitching coach Mike Maddux with a positive update, a call Rizzo had been unaware of.
Baker said Roark was disappointed but, “He’ll pitch sometime in Game 5” Thursday. That was assuming a Game 5, of course.
Rizzo explained Strasburg started feeling ill after pitching Friday. “Flu-like symptoms” – chills, fever, sinus issues – set in for several days. Strasburg threw a Monday bullpen session but felt “really bad.” He received medicine and IVs but felt weak. Rizzo said a change in treatment helped, and with the final call up to the player, Strasburg said he could go.
Incidentally, Jordan scored 37 in that Finals game.
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