HOUSTON - The decision to start Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series was easy for Davey Martinez and the Nationals. The tougher decision is how to line up Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez after that, not to mention how to assemble a lineup for these games in an American League ballpark.
Martinez didn’t reveal the rotation plan beyond Game 2, and it sounds like the Nationals genuinely don’t know yet who they’ll give the ball to for Game 3 in D.C. on Friday night.
Why not? Because it depends on whether or not Corbin pitches in relief at any point during these first two games against the Astros, an option that most definitely is on the table.
“We shall see,” Martinez said with a smile and a tone that suggested he’s already making plans to do just that.
The Nationals have taken an unconventional approach to pitcher usage throughout this postseason run. Both Strasburg and Corbin pitched in relief of Scherzer in the wild card game. Scherzer and Corbin both pitched out of the bullpen in the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. And Corbin did it again in the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals.
Though they admittedly have to be careful about asking too much of their top three starters, the Nationals appear willing and able to use starters in relief again for this final best-of-seven series.
“We’re going to play every game to go 1-0, as I talked about all year long,” Martinez said. “With that being said, if there’s a situation that we feel like a starter could benefit on us capitalizing and winning a game, then so be it. But there’s seven games, so we’ve got to be very careful of how we do things.”
Corbin didn’t hesitate to offer up his services today.
“I just try to be ready,” the left-hander said. “And if they need me, I’ll be ready to go.”
Martinez also faces a few lineup decisions, especially for Games 1 and 2 at Minute Maid Park, where he’ll need a designated hitter. The manager today said he expects to use Howie Kendrick in that role, freeing up the 36-year-old NLCS MVP from the wear and tear of playing defense on his legs.
Cabrera had established himself as the Nationals’ everyday second baseman through September. But the veteran infielder has kind of disappeared during the postseason, with Kendrick starting at second base and Ryan Zimmerman starting at first base.
Cabrera, the 33-year-old switch-hitter who batted .323 with a .404 on-base percentage, .969 OPS and 40 RBIs in 38 games after joining the Nationals in August, would provide a nice extra bat in the lineup. He doesn’t have good numbers against Astros Game 1 starter Gerrit Cole (2-for-17), but he has had considerable success against Game 2 starter Justin Verlander (21-for-76, three homers).
Dozier would provide the better defensive option at second base, which could be more valuable in what is expected to be a low-scoring game. The 32-year-old has taken only six at-bats this postseason, starting one game. He’s 1-for-2 in his career versus Cole, 6-for-31 against Verlander.
Both teams must submit their World Series rosters on Tuesday morning. The Nationals still plan to meet after tonight’s workout to make final decisions, but they don’t figure to make many - if any - changes to their NLCS roster.
“I don’t expect much, no,” Martinez said. “We’re going to meet here again. We met once. We’re going to meet again after the workout tonight and finalize stuff.”
The Astros are still trying to decide if reliever Ryan Pressly, who injured his already surgically repaired right knee during Game 6 of the ALCS on Saturday, will be ready to make the World Series roster. Manager A.J. Hinch said he has expected Pressly to be ready all along, but his status was still being determined today.