LOS ANGELES - They of course still need to play Game 3 this afternoon, but the Nationals know that no matter the outcome they will be playing Game 4 of the National League Division Series here at Dodger Stadium sometime Tuesday (either 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. EDT, depending on the status of the Cubs-Giants series).
So the Nationals will need a starting pitcher for Game 4. They just haven't revealed the identity of that person yet.
Conventional wisdom says Joe Ross would get the nod, as originally planned. And the right-hander might indeed get the ball from manager Dusty Baker.
The problem, though, is Ross' ability to pitch deep into the game. He made only three starts in late September after returning from shoulder inflammation, and he never threw more than 90 pitches over four innings. What can the Nationals reasonably expect from him in a start of this significance?
And so one of the other options the team is considering is to bring back Max Scherzer on short rest.
Scherzer threw only 91 pitches over six innings in his Game 1 loss on Friday. By his standards, that's not a heavy workload, and so he might be fresher than he otherwise would be returning to pitch on only three days' rest. Scherzer and Baker both said previously they preferred not to do it, but it does remain a viable option if the club so chooses.
If Scherzer starts Game 4 and the series advances to a winner-take-all Game 5 in Washington on Thursday, the Nationals would have to choose between Ross and Tanner Roark for the starting assignment. Roark just threw 85 pitches over 4 1/3 innings in Game 2 on Sunday, so he also is coming off a less-than-normal workload and could conceivably return on three days' rest.
Roark certainly didn't sound opposed to the idea when asked after Sunday's game.
"Oh, yeah," the right-hander said. "I'll be ready to go."
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have their own Game 4 decision to make between rookie Julio Urias and ace Clayton Kershaw, who likewise would be returning on three days' rest.
"We know that Julio right now is scheduled to start regardless," manager Dave Roberts said this morning. "But after today, there's no absolutes. We can change, and we do have Kershaw available. We just haven't decided as an organization what makes the most sense, whether it's a win or a loss today. ... We'll discuss after the game."