Nats waiting to see if Strasburg is ready to start Game 2

LOS ANGELES - The Nationals will send Patrick Corbin to the mound Thursday night for Game 1 of their National League Division Series against the Dodgers. That much they know for sure.

They do not yet know who will start Game 2 on Friday night, but they certainly appear to be open to the idea of giving the ball to Stephen Strasburg only three days after his dominant three-inning relief appearance in their wild card game victory over the Brewers.

Strasburg-Delivers-Gray-Front-Sidebar.jpg“Most definitely,” manager Davey Martinez said when asked tonight if Strasburg is a candidate.

The Nationals knew they were taking a risk making both Strasburg and Corbin available out of the bullpen behind starter Max Scherzer for Tuesday night’s thriller on South Capitol Street. With a quick turnaround to this best-of-five NLDS, they left themselves vulnerable to opening the next round at a pitching disadvantage.

But they also knew it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t win the wild card game, and so they put all their eggs in that basket in an attempt to win and keep their season alive. In the end, the got five innings of three-run ball from Scherzer, then three scoreless innings from Strasburg on 34 pitches before Daniel Hudson closed out the 4-3 victory in the ninth.

Corbin, like Strasburg, was in the bullpen all night. The left-hander, though, never began to warm up and wasn’t needed, which made him the obvious choice to start Game 1 against the Dodgers.

“I wouldn’t have warmed him up unless we had to go extra innings,” Martinez said. “That would have been the only case. When we took the lead, we had Hudson and (Sean Doolittle), who’s been back there for us. So yeah, it’s kind of nice coming into today knowing that Patrick’s going to go Game 1 and we didn’t have to (warm) him up.”

Corbin will get the nod against right-hander Walker Buehler, selected by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts for the Game 1 assignment over future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw and Cy Young Award candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu.

“I think, obviously, all three of our guys deserve the opportunity to pitch the first game of this, in the Division Series,” Roberts said. “We just felt that with Walker getting an opportunity to pitch the first game, also potentially a Game 5, gives us the best chance to win regardless of the opponent.”

Corbin also would be available for a potential do-or-die Game 5 next Wednesday back here at Dodger Stadium, the kind of big-time assignment he anticipated when he signed a $140 million contract with the Nationals last winter.

“I’ve never pitched in the playoffs,” said Corbin, who was supposed to start Game 4 of the 2017 NLDS for the Diamondbacks but never got the chance after they were swept by the Dodgers. “But that was a big reason why I wanted to come here, to have an opportunity to pitch in games like this, big games.”

Corbin wouldn’t necessarily have to start Game 5 next week, though. With two off-days for travel back and forth between coasts, the Game 2 starter could come back to pitch the decisive game on full rest if needed. That makes the Nationals’ decision all the more significant.

If Strasburg can start Game 2, he could then start Game 5 as well (or pitch in relief of Corbin). If the team goes with Aníbal Sánchez instead for Game 2, then Strasburg and Scherzer only end up starting one game apiece in the series.

What will it take for Martinez to give the ball to Strasburg on Friday night?

“Obviously, it’s going to be a quick turnaround (from Tuesday’s relief appearance),” the manager said. “I would just want to give him a day to recoup. We just got off a flight, so I want to see how he feels.”

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