CHICAGO — Tanner Roark was set to pitch Wednesday. As someone who grew up a Chicago Cubs fans, Roark knew what pitching in Wrigley Field during the playoffs meant.
His start was stalled by Stephen Strasburg’s new antibiotics. Strasburg surprised himself, Washington pitching coach Mike Maddux and Nationals manager Dusty Baker by waking up Wednesday feeling sufficiently recovered from the sickness he had been dealing with since arriving in Chicago. That pushed Roark out. Strasburg’s dominant pitching in a 5-0 Game 4 win to level the National League Division Series 2-2 put Roark into further limbo.
He’s among the choices to start Thursday’s deciding Game 5 in Nationals Park. The first pitch at 8:08 p.m. could be thrown by Roark, Gio Gonzalez or, maybe, Max Scherzer.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker did not commit to any starter after Wednesday’s win.
“We’re not sure yet,” Baker said. “So we’re trying to — we’re going to make up our mind, see the condition of everybody and like I said, I’m not sure. I’m not trying to be coy at all because that was the theme of the day, you know, with Stras.
“You know, whoever it is, I hope they pitch like Stras did [Wednesday].”
Roark is fresh and probably getting close to stale. He last pitched Oct. 1. That was just an inning of relief. His last start was Sept. 27. It did not go well.
Roark allowed six earned runs in Philadelphia, which was part of his wishy-washy September. He finished with a 4.40 ERA that month.
Baker and Maddux said before Strasburg took the ball in Game 4 that they had “supreme confidence” in Roark. The question is if that confidence is at such a level that they would pitch him with the season on the line. The same goes for Gonzalez.
Washington’s lone left-hander would be on regular rest following his Game 2 start. Gonzalez was moderately effective that night. He allowed three earned runs, including two home runs, in five innings at Nationals Park. Eighth-inning home runs from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman changed the game into Washington’s favor. Gonzalez, as is his wont, was solid but not potent in his postseason appearance. He has a 4.24 ERA in the postseason.
That leaves Scherzer. How long could he pitch? Would it be better for him to start the game or come in as a reliever? Is his “tweaked” hamstring ready to work again?
Scherzer threw 98 pitches in Game 3 Monday. He controlled the Cubs throughout the night. He was available out of the bullpen Wednesday, if necessary. Scherzer also previously proclaimed that he would be available in Game 5 Thursday, if it came to that.
The 2016 Cy Young Award winner would be on just three days’ rest. Pitching him multiple innings Thursday would mean he would not be able to pitch in the National League Championship Series on regular rest — should they make it — until Game 3. If Washington could somehow get through Thursday without Scherzer — or without extending him — it could slate him to start Game 1 or 2 on Saturday or Sunday in Los Angeles. That, of course, is a cart-before-the-horse complication.
There is one pitcher not available Thursday: Strasburg. There is also a question about Ryan Madson’s availability after he threw 27 pitches Wednesday night. That matched his longest outing of the season. He also threw 27 pitches June 27. Those were the only two outings this season he threw that many pitches.
Neither of those two will be starting Game 5. The great question is who will.
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