‘Very, very depleted’ Stephen Strasburg still wanted to pitch Game 4, says Nationals GM

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 10:46:00 PM. Mike Rizzo says healthy Tanner Roark gives the Nats a better chance than sick Stephen Strasburg.

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Stephen Strasburg throws in the outfield at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo joined The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan on Wednesday and was asked repeatedly about the team’s decision to start Tanner Roark instead of “under the weather” ace Stephen Strasburg in Wednesday’s elimination game of the National League Division Series in Chicago. Rizzo’s answers led to more questions and some excellent radio.

“He spoke with Mike Maddux, our pitching coach, after his bullpen on Monday, and looked bad and looked under the weather, looked sick,” Rizzo said of Strasburg, who most people assumed would take the mound with Washington’s season on the line after rain bumped Game 4 from Tuesday to Wednesday. “Threw his bullpen, threw it, and was just very, very depleted. No energy, and he was just toasted really, really fast in the bullpen. Had no endurance. To us, that’s the biggest key. He didn’t improve and got worse [Tuesday] in far as how he was feeling. We just decided to go with a guy that has won 15, 16 and 13 games in the big leagues for us, and is a reliable stater. We would rather have Strasburg on full five days rest at 100 percent feeling great, but that’s not the case. We feel that, with Tanner pitching the way he’s pitching at full go, 100 percent, prepared and focused and set to pitch this game throughout the playoffs, we feel that’s our best chance to win Game 4 and that’s what we’re going with.”

Now, if Strasburg was sick enough on Tuesday for the Nationals to rule him out for Wednesday’s elimination game nearly 24 hours before first pitch, how could the team be so sure he’d be ready to start a potential series deciding game on Thursday in D.C.?

“Well, hopefully he’s ready by Game 5,” Rizzo said. “It’s another day to get well. If he’s still too sick to pitch, then it’s all hands on deck again. We’ve got Gio [Gonzalez] on full rest, we’ll have to see.”

Rizzo was also asked if Strasburg put up a fight to pitch, despite feeling under the weather.

“Yeah, he wanted to pitch,” Rizzo said. “What he told Mike Maddux was, he said he’d give us everything he has. He said he’s not sure how much that is and how long he could go. That’s the decision we made as a unit, like we always make all these decisions that we’re going to do what’s best for the team. This isn’t about Stephen Strasburg, or about pitching through adversity. This is about winning Game 4 of the playoffs, and we feel with Tanner Roark at 100 percent, on full rest, full preparation to pitch Game 4 from the beginning of the playoffs, he gives us a better chance than a depleted, sick Stephen Strasburg. If we get to Game 5, if we’re fortunate enough to get there, we’ll see where we’re at with Stras.”

Rizzo said the Nationals announced Roark as the Game 4 starter on Tuesday evening because “you have to announce a starter.” He was then asked why the Nationals didn’t just announce Strasburg as the starter and see how he felt on Wednesday morning before deciding whether to make a switch and go with Roark instead.

“Fellas, fellas, fellas,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to pitch the guy that gives us the best chance to win Game 4, and in our opinion — you may differ, but you have no credibility in this because you don’t know what Stras was like, what he looked like, what he feels like, what Roark is like and how he’s prepared for this — we’re putting a guy out there that was 15-10 in ’14, 16-10 in ’16 and 13-11 this year. We’re putting out a guy at 100 percent, prepared for this start that we think is going to win Game 4. Now, you don’t like it? I get it. Fine. But we’re judged on winning this playoff series, and if you think for one second if I think Stephen Strasbug, as he is, gives us a better chance to win Game 4 than Tanner Roark, I wouldn’t pitch Stephen Strasburg? Why, because I don’t want to win this game? Wake up, fellas. Come on.”

“You know deep down that Stephen doesn’t perform well when he’s not just right, so you’re making the right call for your team, but fans have the right to question why this guy won’t at least attempt to put his b—- on the line,” host Eric Bickel offered.

“He is attempting to put his b—- on the line,” Rizzo said. “He went out and threw a bullpen and said to Mike Maddux, pitching coach, ‘I’m going to give you everything I had. I don’t know how much it is.’ And we made the decision that we want 100 percent healthy Tanner Roark, who won 15, 16 and 13 games over the last three years he was a starter over a depleted Stephen Strasburg. Asked and answered. How many times do you want to go through it?”

Rizzo reiterated that Nationals Manager Dusty Baker simply got his days mixed up when he told reporters on Tuesday that Strasburg threw a bullpen session earlier that day, not Monday, which led to some confusion that that was the reason he was unavailable to pitch in Wednesday’s postponed Game 4.

“He knew he pitched a bullpen, he just made a mistake on the date,” Rizzo said. “He said he pitched it [Tuesday] and it was supposed to be [Monday]. He threw it on Monday and it was Tuesday. Read into the conspiracy theory as much as you want, but it’s very simple.”

Later in the interview, Rizzo noted what, before Tuesday’s botched news conference led to theories about Strasburg begging out of the most important game of his career, has been the story of the series.

“We have to start jump-starting our offense,” Rizzo said of the Nationals’ anemic offense, which is hitting .121 through three games. “It’s that simple. This has nothing to do with the pitching, the defense, the managing, any aspect of the game other than we haven’t scored enough runs to win baseball games. Until we do that, we’re going to struggle. We hope that today is the game we break out of it. We’ve only broke out in one inning so far in the three-game series, and we plan to grind out at-bats, take good at-bats and take it to a very good Chicago Cubs team.”

Listen to Rizzo’s entire interview below.

More on the Nationals:

Nationals will stick with Roark for Wednesday’s game

Harper to hit third, Werth second for crucial Game 4

Cubs’ Rizzo was so insulted by Nats he hit a pop fly

What we have here (for the Nats) is a failure to communicate

When did Mike Rizzo become a Cubs fan? In the summer of ’69.

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