Posted on September 28, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine

Washington Nationals Stephen Strasburg

Image via espn.com

The only postseason matchup that’s locked in stone as of right now is the Washington Nationals playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. While the Dodgers have already named their rotation for the series, the Nationals are still trying to figure things out, primarily because of the uncertainty with Stephen Strasburg, who the team says is unlikely to be ready to pitch in the NLDS.

Strasburg has not pitched since September 7, when he was removed in the 3rd inning of his start and ultimately diagnosed with a strained flexor mass. That start was his first following a stint on the DL due to elbow pain. Strasburg is making progress in his recovery from that elbow trouble, as he was able to play catch from 90 feet away on Tuesday. However, the Nationals are not optimistic about him recovering in time to pitch in the NLDS, which starts in a little over a week.

“I think it would be kind of pushing it,” GM Mike Rizzo said about the possibility of Strasburg pitching against the Dodgers. “I think that’s fair to say. Again, I haven’t seen him after he did his throwing program today, but just the calendar, it’s unlikely that he’d contribute in that first series.”

Rizzo is certainly right about the calendar working against Strasburg and the Nationals. If Strasburg is yet to throw off a mound, pitching in a game, much less a meaningful game, within the next two weeks is unlikely. By the time the NLDS gets underway, Strasburg will have gone a month without pitching, and so how sharp he would be or how deep into the game he’s able to pitch would also be question marks.

The fact that the Nationals signed Strasburg to a seven-year, $175 million extension earlier this season would also suggest that the team will be cautious with him and not rush to get him back on the mound. This would all but guarantee that Washington will have to beat the Dodgers without him if Strasburg hopes to pitch again in 2016.

The Nationals have not said anything official, but without Strasburg they will likely have Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, and Gio Gonzalez start the first three games of the NLDS. If the series goes to at least four games, the Game 4 starter is a mystery at this point. If Strasburg is somehow able to work his way back, he would likely pitch that game. Of course that is unlikely.

Washington might prefer to send a lefty to the mound against the Dodgers, who have a lefty-heavy lineup, but the Nationals don’t have any lefty starters other than Gonzalez. Joe Ross may be the best option, but he is yet to throw more than three innings in a start since returning from a shoulder injury earlier this month. Another option, but one the Nationals don’t seem to prefer, is pitching Scherzer on short rest in a possible Game 4.

“I’d like not to do that on short rest because then what’s going to happen next round and the next round?” explains manager Dusty Baker. “He’s going to be on super short and then you’re risking injury. The other guys got to do their job. I can’t stress that enough. You can beat one horse to death and then what? You’re still stuck with the other horses. You’ve got to spread the workload around and everybody’s got to earn their keep and everybody’s got to earn their money.”

How the Nationals will handle their rotation if their series with the Dodgers goes beyond three games remains uncertain. With Strasburg almost certainly unavailable for the NLDS, Washington doesn’t have an obvious starter for a possible Game 4, which could hurt them against Los Angeles team. Despite a rash of injuries to their rotation this season, the Dodgers appear to have all of their starting pitchers lined up and ready for the postseason.

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