Sunday’s starter still up in the air; Johnson sums up Strasburg’s season

PHOENIX - We know either Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark will start for the Nationals in the season finale Sunday.

We still just don’t know which of the two it’ll be.

Essentially, it boils down to how the Nats fare in the first two games of this series. If they win or lose both games, it sounds like Davey Johnson will start Roark on Sunday. If the Nats split the first two games of this three-game set, Gonzalez will probably get the ball.

The reason? Johnson is currently 300 games over .500 for his managerial career (1370-1070), and he’d like to finish at or above that mark, if possible.

“Guys have 20 stolen bases, 20 homers; 300 sounds like a good number,” Johnson said. “Maybe we could get that. So I said that to some of the guys. I said, ‘Can we win a couple games?’ And Gio knows it. So I think if we win a couple, he’ll go home. If 1-1, he’ll take the ball. So it’s kind of complicated and stupid.

“But it don’t matter. It was just something I threw out there. Motivational speech. ‘Do something for me, fellas!’

“It’s that time of year when you accommodate everybody. I try to accommodate everybody all year and this is a little accommodation for me. I don’t care. Really, I don’t care. But I put my two cents in.”

Statistical milestones matter to many players, and I guess they matter to some managers too.

Gonzalez is currently 4 1/3 innings shy of reaching the 200-inning mark for the second straight season, and he’s eight strikeouts short of the 200-strikeout mark, as well. Those are factors that could lead to him getting the nod Sunday.

Meanwhile, we do know who tonight’s Nats starter will be. Stephen Strasburg gets the ball for the final time this season, coming into this outing 7-9 with a 3.02 ERA on the year.

It’s been a strong overall season for Strasburg, despite what the record might indicate. He currently sits 10th in the National League in ERA, and while his strikeout numbers have dropped a bit from last season, he’s been able to work deeper into games, going seven innings or more in 15 of his 29 starts.

“I think he’s had a better year,” Johnson said. “I think he’s learned more about himself and the type of pitcher he is. I think at times last year, he got into a bit of a rut trying to be more of a strikeout pitcher. At times he did that this year, overthrow a little bit, but he’s just a really good pitcher that has tremendous command. Sometimes little things that happened around him sometimes affected him. I thought he got better and better at that.

“He’s still very young as a big league pitcher. Him getting his most innings and this is the first time I think he’s ever had 30 starts in a season, so a lot of good milestones going forward.”

Johnson mentioned the little things that affected Strasburg in the past, whether it was a bad call, an error by a teammate or the weather on the day he pitched. But he admits that he got better at dealing with those bumps in the road while on the mound, not letting it affect his performance as much.

“It’s all a part of it - learning how to pitch in major league games,” Johnson said. “All the things that go on. He’s very much a perfectionist and he’s learned to taper that a little bit and I think that’s good, too. So I think it’s been a good year for him, but it’s also been a learning year. And that’s good, too.”

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