The Nationals spent most of their Saturday in the sky, electing to get a full night’s sleep in Los Angeles following their intense Game 2 win over the Dodgers and take a charter flight that wasn’t scheduled to arrive back in Washington until after 8 p.m.
It gave them plenty of time to think back to all the critical moments in Friday night’s game at Dodger Stadium, all the moves that worked to even up the National League Division Series at one game apiece.
It also gave them plenty of time to think about what now lies ahead the next two nights in Games 3 and 4 at Nationals Park, where a whole lot of questions abound.
Questions like ...
* Who’s starting Game 3?
This one, of course, tops the list. When they left Chavez Ravine late Friday night, they legitimately didn’t know whether they’d be giving the ball to Max Scherzer or Aníbal Sánchez for tonight’s game (7:45 p.m.).
“I’m going to sit back tonight and think about a bunch of different things,” manager Davey Martinez said after Game 2. “And wake up tomorrow and get on a plane and think about a bunch of different things. And then we’ll be ready to go.”
Scherzer was initially announced as the Nationals’ Game 3 starter. But that was before he threw 14 of the most intense pitches of his life in the bottom of the eighth, striking out the side to preserve his team’s 4-2 lead.
Yes, Friday was his typical “throw day” in between starts, so it’s not outrageous to think he could come back and start tonight. At the same time, the Nationals don’t really have to put him back on the mound so soon.
This series is now guaranteed to go at least four games. They will play Monday night (6:40 p.m.) on South Capitol Street, with one of these teams seeking to clinch and advance to the NL Championship Series and the other trying to stave off elimination and force a Game 5 back in L.A. on Wednesday.
So Sánchez is going to start one of these games. And Scherzer is going to start the other. Sánchez is more than fully rested, having last pitched Sept. 25 against the Phillies. And the veteran right-hander dominated the vaunted Dodgers the last time he faced them, allowing one run on three hits over seven innings July 26, retiring the last 20 batters he faced after a harrowing top of the first.
If the Nationals are willing to go with Sánchez tonight, perhaps with Austin Voth backing him up in case of an early exit, they could give Scherzer an extra day to recover from his relief outing and have him at full strength for a critical Game 4 on Monday.
(And remember: If Game 5 is necessary, they’d have both Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin on full rest available to them. That is, if neither is asked to pitch out of the bullpen before then, which has suddenly become a qualifier that has to be stated for this team.)
* Is Victor Robles OK?
It got lost in the shuffle a bit during the madness of the final innings Friday night, but Robles injured his hamstring running down the first base line on an eighth inning bunt.
The rookie clearly wasn’t running well, and he walked very gingerly off the field, replaced in center field for the bottom of the eighth by Michael A. Taylor.
Robles declined to talk in the clubhouse after the game. Martinez didn’t know much in the immediate aftermath.
“He has got a little hamstring issue,” the manager said. “They didn’t diagnose it yet. We’re going to see how he feels in the morning. But I think that we’ll have to play it day-to-day right now.”
Robles obviously is important to the Nationals, and if the injury is at all serious it would be a big blow to them. The potential bright side: If it only sidelines him for a day or two, Taylor could start in center field and not only provide excellent defense but a right-handed bat against Dodgers lefties Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill, scheduled to start Games 3 and 4.
* Who’s pitching out of the bullpen tonight?
This is going to be a nightly question as long as the Nationals’ season continues, and we have to consider every possibility now that we’ve seen Martinez’s willingness (or is that eagerness?) to use his best starters as relievers.
Thanks to the travel day, everybody should be fresh. Sean Doolittle threw 16 pitches in Game 2. Daniel Hudson threw 23, many of those of the high-stress variety. But both should be available tonight for an inning apiece.
Who else would Martinez turn to if his yet-to-be-named starter doesn’t go seven innings? Perhaps Voth makes his postseason debut as a bridge between starter and the back-end guys? (Though Martinez has indicated the rookie’s primary role is to serve as a long man in case of an early exit or in case of extra innings.)
And then the biggest question: Would Corbin be available out of the ‘pen for an inning, or to match up against a couple of left-handed hitters? This would be his between-starts throw day. He was out in the bullpen during the wild card game in case he was needed, but he never was. Perhaps he’ll become the third member of the Nationals rotation to make a relief appearance in their first four games of this postseason.