LOS ANGELES -- Dave Martinez wanted Stephen Strasburg to be honest with him. Even after the Nationals landed in Los Angeles on Wednesday, the Washington manager wanted Strasburg to take the day to assess how he felt after his first career appearance out of the bullpen, a 34-pitch performance across three innings to help the Nats advance past the Brewers in the National League Wild Card Game.
But Strasburg woke up Thursday morning and sought out Martinez and pitching coach Paul Menhart to tell them he wanted the ball. He will start Game 2 of the NL Division Series on Friday night against the Dodgers.
“He wants the ball,” Martinez said prior to Game 1 on Thursday. “The big thing now is he wants the ball. ... I said, ‘Well, I would love for you to go Game 2, but if you think you need your five days, I get it, I understand. We can push it back.’ Today, he came in, without hesitation he says, ‘I want the ball. I'm ready to pitch. I feel great.'”
If the Nationals are going to make a deep run this postseason, they will likely accomplish that by leaning on their rotation. So it makes sense that they will ask this much of Strasburg, especially considering how excellent he has been in October.
Strasburg has pitched in four career postseason games, including three starts. He's given up only one earned run in 22 innings, a 0.41 ERA, with 28 strikeouts and four walks. He almost willed the Nationals past the Cubs in the 2017 NLDS with a pair of lights-out starts in Games 1 and 4.
By pitching Strasburg in Game 2, it also opens up a few possibilities. Strasburg should be available to take the ball for a potential winner-take-all Game 5. And the Nats could also use Anibal Sanchez out of the bullpen, perhaps during one of the first two games in Los Angeles. The Nationals could also line up Max Scherzer for Game 3 back in D.C., although Martinez stopped short of making that announcement.
“We have had an amazing run all the way to this point, and I'm excited to get the opportunity to keep it going,” Strasburg said. “But really, I mean, my arm's felt great all year and my routine's kind of improved this year over previous seasons.”
The decision to bring Strasburg back for Game 2 also carries some risk. Starting pitchers are creatures of habit, especially Strasburg. So even though Tuesday would have been his regular “throw day” in the bullpen, 34 pitches in three innings during an elimination game is a lot different than the usual side session in the bullpen,
“It was definitely the most adrenaline I've ever had for a bullpen,” Strasburg said with a laugh.