Nationals Baseball: You gotta know when to hold them, know when to mold them

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

You gotta know when to hold them, know when to mold them

Yesterday at this time Nats fans were universally praying for rain. Rain would set up a scenario where Strasburg, the hottest pitcher in baseball, could go on normal rest today in G4 and Gio, who's having a remarkable year, could go on normal rest in G5. It would by no means guarantee anything but it would give the Nats a better shot and that's all you can ask for down 2 games to 1.

Then insanity happened. For those of you that went to bed at 6PM last night here's Castillo's recap and Boz's take.  Strasburg would not pitch Game 4.

Immediately the focus was on Dusty making a stupid move but it soon became apparent that it wasn't Dusty's gut, but Strasburg's body that was driving this choice. Word got out that he was sick and would not be able to pitch. As Boz points out, it got out in the most confusing way, as Dusty - one of the smoother managers in front of the mic - bumbled his way through a couple explanations at one point insinuating that Strasburg took his bullpen session* that morning. That both didn't make sense strategically and informationally as no one reported a Strasburg bullpen session that morning. Dusty ended up blaming mold in the hotels for making the team sick and we were left with more questions and no answers. 

Boz's piece attempts to fill in the blanks. It paints Strasburg again as the warrior, willing to throw through pain for the team. However the team decided it was best to give Strasburg another day and that the miscommunication on Dusty's end had to be all Dusty.

The immediate question you ask yourself when presented a story is - does it pass on first glance. This one doesn't.

Strasburg's reputation aside, there is next to no reason to announce Strasburg wouldn't start on 5:00PM Wednesday at 5:00PM Tuesday. Baseball is a tough sport because of the length and grind** of the season. It's an almost everyday sport that covers half a year. Players will get sick. That isn't unusual. But sickness is typically taken as a day by day injury. Whether you can play tonight is not decided the day before but upon coming to the field the day of and evaluating then. Perhaps a morning decision in cases where the decision is an obvious one.

A decision the day before hints at two things. Either a pitcher who chose not to rise to the occasion, or an illness of such strength that no re-evaluation the next morning would change their feelings. But the latter would suggest an illness that may keep Strasburg from pitching for more than just one day, yet the team had very firmly stated that Strasburg would go in Game 5, with no equivocation about health.

So it's unlikely that it IS that type of illness.

The other thing that is bothersome is Dusty's reaction. His meandering responses are not the responses of a man who has come face to face with a deathbed ill player and now has to deliver that bad news to the press. They are the responses of a man who is faced with a decision that caught him off-guard and doesn't know how to present that to the press. Does he take the blame (Roark was slated), does he blame it on the illness effecting today's preparation (creatures of habit), does he run with a given excuse fed to him (bullpen today), or does he just say "He's sick" for some reason and have that be the end of it (mold). We've seen Dusty for 2 years out in front of the cameras. If he saw a super ill Strasburg earlier that day, if he thought that might keep him from pitching and then was in on the decision - this is not the Dusty we would have seen.What is that Dusty? Something that makes sense - like the responses to the Max injury pushing him out to Game 3.

So it's doubtful again that this was an illness so debilitating that it could be judged to be start altering the day before.

Add to this Bob Nightengale's story from an unnamed source that Strasburg said he couldn't go and you have all the facts reaching the same conclusion. Which is the story that is presented to us by Boz is not the unvarnished truth.

What we are left now with is speculation. I don't think Boz or Rizzo would flat out lie. I don't see that in any past work. But feeding you half facts to try to paint a different picture? I'd buy that.What are the likely facts then.

Strasburg is sick, perhaps strongly
During activities Strasburg did not feel right, not completing a pen on Monday and not feeling right on his run on Tuesday
Strasburg told Rizzo "I'll give you what I got"
A group decided Strasburg would not pitch.
The group didn't communicate to Dusty the exact way they wanted him to present this
Dusty talked about players being "creatures of habit"

What we can put together is a more likely picture then the one painted by Boz. In this one an ill-Strasburg comes to the park on Tuesday and is unable to prepare like he prefers to before a game. He couldn't do his pen on Monday as he liked and now he can't do whatever it is he does on the day before a game to his satisfaction. Because of that he tells the Nats he doesn't want to pitch. He's a creature of habit and simply doesn't feel like he can pitch tomorrow if he can't get his exact prep in the day before. The Nats press him and ask him if he can go to which Strasburg answers "I'll give you what I got" not in a defiant scream against the illness, but in an matter of fact statement of the situation. He'll pitch if the Nats make him, and he'll do his best, but he'd rather have things in the way he likes them. The team defers and tells Dusty he's gotta go with Tanner. Dusty who either wasn't in on this decision or was just coming from the meeting where it was decided, is taken aback, used to the idea if an athlete can stand, they are going to go out there and try. To fly the white flag a day before an elimination game is unthinkable and now he's gotta explain something to the media that he can't really expalin to himself.

Is that really what happened? I don't know. It's a story. But it's a story I think that fit the facts better than what the Nats want us to believe.  

So today it's Tanner vs Arrieta. Good luck and WIN GODDAMMIT WIN.

*Longer throwing sessions off the mound in the pen, usually done Day 2 but sometimes Day 3 of 4 day off-period. Day 4 is universally for rest of the arm.

**Available in paperback - Christmas is coming up! 


Robot said...

Well...yeah, I got nothing....This is just baffling to me...

Anonymous said...

It's always something with this franchise. Guess we'll have to wait for Svrluga's deep dive after the season ends tonight to find out the truth. I feel the same way right now as I did after the Bud Black fiasco, which is what a clown car of a franchise. Fortunately they've been a relatively successful clown car.

Bryce has got to be like, I can't wait to get out of here.

SomeGuyInVA said...

Offense carried this team for the first half of the season.

It's time for the position players to look at this pitching situation and say "We (the offense) are going to have go win these next two games, because we can't count on them (the starting pitchers) to do it by themselves."

elchupinazo said...

I agree that it's baffling, and I'm not sure how to feel about it. In one sense, I could see how the teams got flummoxed (both of them). Remember, at some point there was talk of moving the game up to get it in before the rain came. Taking that as gospel and saying "welp, then there's no way I'm pitching G4" is a pretty stupid thing to do, but if that's even a part of what happened and everyone's prep got messed up, I guess I can see how both teams felt stuck with their planned G4 starters. Remember, this would also put Hendricks on schedule to close us out. He's the only of their guys who looked truly unhittable (that we managed to do slightly more against Lester and Quintana doesn't mean they looked unhittable), and if it doesn't go their way they'd still have Lester for G5.

But instead, they're going to trot out Arrieta, a man who I feel like (I haven't looked at stats) the Nats have hit well even at his Cy Young peak, and who is a shell of his former self lately. To me, I feel like there's no way the Cubs commit to him unless they also had some prep issues. Sure, they're naming their starter from a position of strength (and not desperation), but I imagine Cubs fans are also wondering why they're starting their (literally) hamstrung 4th guy instead of their rested ace.

And while I'd love for Strasburg to nut up (provided he's not actually sick or secretly injured), has anything about his past indicated he's that kind of player? He's made of glass, and a stiff breeze is enough to keep him off the mound for "precautionary" reasons. Yeah, it's playoffs, everyone's hurt at the end of the long season and making sacrifices and pushing your limits is what it takes to win. But really, given that Strasburg's performance is affected by things as benign as "slightly higher than normal temperatures," I can almost appreciate that for whatever reason he's saying he doesn't have it.

Like other people have said, the Nats could put the ghost of Walter Johnson on the mound and have Randy Johnson come in for relief and still not win. It's not a pitching issue, it's an offense issue. Roark has said many times this season that he "just needs to get it done" only to fall on his face anyway, but maybe the gravity of the situation will work for him, not against him. They don't want Arrieta out there anymore than Nats fans want Tanner out there. Arrieta is likely hittable. The Nats have more offensive potential to pop off than the Cubs.

Get to him early, hang 3-4 runs on him. Hook Tanner at the first sign of trouble and let the bullpen (which includes Gio and Max) do their thing. Win. Then see what Stras can do in G5.

Anonymous said...

Checked the stats for you @elchupinazo. In 2017, Arrieta had a 11.25 v the Nats, highest of any opponent when he let up 5 runs in 4 innings, but can't really rely on one bad game. For his career, 5.48 v the Nats, fourth worst of any opponent in 9 games and WHIP is second highest of any opponent.

Anonymous said...

Tough and smart are sometimes at odds with one another. This is not Kirk Gibson with a balky knee saying he can pinch hit. This is not Michael Jordan playing with the flu. If either of those guys doesn't have it, contingencies can be made. In a series in which the offense has scored two runs (one unearned) in 26 of the 27 innings played, if the starting pitcher "doesn't have it" early in an elimination game, the season is likely over. You could interpret Strasburg not wanting to pitch today as selfish - not wanting to be the goat if the team loses. But he's risen to the occasion plenty of times before, including just a few days ago in G1. I think of this as a team-first move: Strasburg honestly feels bad enough that he thinks Tanner gives the team a better shot to win.

Who do we think leaked to Nightengale?

NatsVA said...

Svrluga nails it.

Carl said...

A poster above hit on something I just wondered about: is this another nail in the coffin of Bryce's Nats tenure. I have believed since pretty much day one that he'd go to the Yankees the minute his free agency starts, but held out some hope that maybe he'd want to stay here and be a local legend. But if goofy crap like this happens, it's another reason for him to peace out ASAP.

Dave said...

This is a prime example of how "optics" have gotten way out of hand in today's world. Everyone is on fire because they did not deliver the information about the pitching situation. Squirrel...The first issue is that the stinkin' batters need to sack up. They need to hit the ball. They need to get past first base. They need to score runs at a better pace than the Bad News Bears. This "controversy" is just another shiny thing. Stras is one of the few players that has performed in the series thus far.

Harper said...

Anon - it's a clown car but the rest of the NL East are riding tiny bicycles.

el chup - Maddon decided pretty immediately that it would be Arrieta no matter what so not ever preparing Hendricks for G4. Also you can use anyone but Hendricks tonight. So it's less "Arrieta vs Hendricks" then "Everyone then Hendricks G5 vs Hendricks G4 then everyone"

Anon @ 6:51 - again possible but why not tell us that today? Get a good night's sleep and see how you feel in the morning. And please don't give me something about it effecting Roark being ready. I'm tired of that

Carl - I think Bryce will do what's best for Bryce. I don't think this really matters. More important might be the manager treatment then Strasburg silliness.

Dave - It IS the offenses fault that the Nats are where they are and will probably be the offense's fault if the Nats lose the series. Still this isn't just optics it's about having maybe the hottest pitcher in the game not pitch a game where he seemed lined up to. It's a big deal.

Anonymous said...

Watching the Yankees the other night, I can see Bryce in Yankee pinstripes playing in NYC. They will pony up the 500 mil and it's his logical next move.

Dave said...

@harper-I see your point. Don't get me wrong, not having Stras pitch in game 4 is a big deal. My point is not that, rather it is the firestorm of how the info was mishandled that he was not available. We can all agree on the odds of winning with the offense coming up as empty as it has so far are close to zero. They need to worry about scoring first and foremost.

Anonymous said...

Feeling under the weather-sounds like Strasburg is patient zero for the zombie apocalypse. Really think the government should consider nuking the greater Chicago area just to be sure.

BornInDC said...

What is particularly frustrating is that Dusty and the Nationals looked unprepared for the reaction to his press conference yesterday. Today Dusty and the Nationals are the laughingstock of baseball, and not for the first time with respect to an issue Strasburg. As the manager, my understanding is that it is Dusty's job to put he players in the best position to win. I don't see how being the laughingstock of baseball accomplishes that goal and I don't understand how Dusty and/or the Nationals did not understand that being the laughingstock of baseball would not be the result of that press conference.

In light of the weather prediction for Tuesday, how does Dusty not sit down with Strasburg in advance and tell him that if there is a rain out, Strasburg will start Game 4 and ask Strasburg what Dusty needs to do to get Strasburg ready for Game 4: antibiotics, different hotel room, sauna, etc., because if there is a rain out and Strasburg doesn't feel he can go in Game 4, not only Dusty but Strasburg will never hear the end of it from fans and reporters and Dusty does not want to put Strasburg in that position.

As in Game 3, when Dusty pulled Max, and didn't anticipate Maddon's likely counter-moves, at the press conference Tuesday, Dusty looked unprepared for the likely consequences of his actions.

Anonymous said...

Harper, I think the "wait-and-see-how-Strasburg-feels-today" approach is a viable option, but it's not clear to me that it's better than what they actually did. I don't think not naming a starter for today is an option. So if they take the wait-and-see approach, they say yesterday that Strasburg starts today. Tanner is told behind closed doors to prepare as though he were starting today. If Strasburg warms up and says he can't go, that causes some serious chaos right before the game.

Is that better or worse than causing serious chaos 24 hours before the game? I don't know, but I think reasonable minds can differ. It's at least plausible to me that Rizzo thought "there is going to be chaos if Strasburg doesn't pitch. It's better to get torched by the media starting at 7pm on Wednesday than drop a bomb on the team as it's warming up right before the game."

I don't honestly think managing chaos is what's driving the bus here. I think the Nats/Strasburg thought yesterday that he wasn't going to be in shape to pitch today. Whether that was the right decision depends on a lot of information we don't have.

cass said...

Svrluga's article is garbage and I hope he never is put in charge of people and makes them work cause he doesn't believe they're really sick. Used to love Svrluga's writing but today's piece was awful. Putting so much stock in reckless character assassination from people who don't know anything.

We had reports that Murphy's voice was out cause of, what, screaming at Byrce and Zimm's home runs? This report of sickness makes that make much more sense.

Strasburg would pitch if we were able to and apparently offered to. The team decided the illness affected his pitching to the point of trusting Tanner more and figuring since he's sick, better to use him when he's healthier (a day later) than sicker (a day soooner). They know they need to win both games. I am guessing (guessing) this was their thinking.

I donno why people want to idolize players who hide illness and pitch like shit because of it causing their teams to get eliminated (I'm sure there have been many) rather than ones who are honest and let the team know where they're at. Whatever.

This is all just the media saying garbage cause they made up their minds about Strasburg years ago based on nothing and have decided to turn on him again. Bah.

NatsVA said...

C'mon, Cass. Svrluga is still the go to guy for getting into the dirt of what's actually going on. You really think the Nationals organization deserves the benefit of the doubt here after their history, and don't think the other players (esp. Scherzer) will have maybe a little bit if an issue with Strasburg saying he doesn't want to pitch? Svrluga is not mincing words, and I for one love it.

Anonymous said...

Morosi just reported that Strasburg is likely to start game 4 not confirmed...

GTA said...

I've spent the better part of the last decade enjoying Stras' pitching when he's healthy, arguing for the shutdown, etc. I think he's a great player, and it gave me the warm and fuzzies to see a guy want to resign in the city I'm from when he (likely? though barring injury) could have gotten as much or more in the glamor markets of NYC/LA. So keep that in mind when I grasp at this last remaining straw:

Is it possible that the Nats ARE waiting to see how Stras feels today before deciding if he can pitch? I don't know the rules about announcing starters in MLB, but maybe there's a chance the new hotel had less mold and now he's back to 100% so they start him anyway? So maybe Roark is announced and the planned starter, but if Stras feels up to it he gets the ball?

I'm sure this will look very dumb in a few hours, but I'm really trying not to believe the "I feel icky on Monday so I can't pitch on Wednesday" narrative. It runs counter to so many of the coolest stories in sports history we all know about (Jordan, Gibson, Byron Leftwich being carried down the field). Part of the magic of watching sports, IMO, is watching human beings exceed what we think they can do. I hope Stras comes through.

GTA said...

Wait, I'm a genius!!! That'll teach me to not check twitter for two minutes while writing a comment...

Mr. T said...


Anonymous said...

Nationals make it official: Stephen Strasburg will start Game 4 of the NLDS

Unknown said...

So were the Nats just playing mindgames all along?

Fries said...

That would be a really dumb way to play mindgames...

Anonymous said...

The Nats are the N.L.'s version of the White Sox. Definitely one way to distract the players, Don't they have a game to focus on instead of this Kardashianesque drama?
Should have stayed in Montreal.

Anonymous said...

Seems similar to the Matt Harvey situation a few years back with the Mets when season pitch counts were the issue.

Pitcher doesn't want to pitch
Media and fans became outraged
Presumably because of the bad p/r, pitcher changes his mind.

Not exact parallels of course. Mets instigated the bad p/r where as the Nats tried to protect Strasburg, albeit very clumsily

cass said...


(Really hope he'll be okay pitching in the cold win today...)

cass said...

Fangraphs just put the smackdown on Barry Svrluga.

All of this is odd cause I have enjoyed Svrluga's writing a ton and even went to a book signing of his many years ago. But wow was his article this morning misguided and unfair, to put it very lightly. I expect that sort of macho nonsense from someone like Boswell, not Svrluga.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 10:35

"Should have stayed in Montreal."

If only!

JE34 said...

Maybe it's my western NY roots, but this whole saga has a "Thurman Thomas Lost Helmet" feel to it. Eminently preventable distraction before huge game.

Ole PBN said...

Michael Jordan in Game 5 with the flu. Curt Schilling with the bloody sock in the ALCS. Kirk Gibson's pinch hit homer. This stuff isn't for everyone, clearly. There are some people that you'd have to handcuff then and chain them to a tree to keep them off the field. Scherzer is that guy I think. It's frustrating that the best pitcher on the planet since the All-Star break isn't and that he's on our team. Maybe he's still pitch poorly and is just saving us from early misery? Who knows? The front office does and our manager could possibly get the can for it. What I do know is that I'd rather Stras pitch and get shelled trying rather than be left wondering what could have been, that's for damn sure.

Ole PBN said...

I'll amend my criticism of Stras, seeing as he's stepping up to the proverbial plate today. Ride or die my friend! Maybe someone told him "Years from now, children will tell tales of this day."

Chaos56 said...

PBN has it 100% right. I was a supporter of the shutdown in 2012 simply based on the long term in-the-hunt-every-year philosophy, but I would much rather watch him get shelled than dealing with another "what if" thing.

Let's go Nats! Happy Strasmus!

JE34 said...

Werth is killing me.

ssln said...

Congratulations, Harper. You over analyzed the situation and reached the wrong conclusion Boz's story makes a lot more sense than your idle speculation. What is even worse, is that your little band of readers fell for the story you conjured out of thin air.
Why don't you write another fairy tale tomorrow to explain why stras took the ball today. You have all the answers, so share it with us.

PotomacFan said...

@ssln: please be polite. Harper does a fabulous job of researching and hosting a blog site with a small group of informed readers. And so far as I know, Harper is not getting a penny to do this. It's simply love of the game.

Harper doesn't pretend to have all the answers, and readily admits when he is incorrect. So let's not make this personal.

G Cracka X said...

Stephen 'Shake It Off' Strasburg! And now for some modified T Swift:

I'm just made of glass, coulda pitched but rather pass
That's what people say, that's what people say
Arm is fallin' off, I get sick and writers scoff
At least that's what people say, that's what people say
But I keep cruising
Turning all them screws in
It's like I got this music in my mind
Saying it's gonna be alright
Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Bozzie, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Batters gonna break, break, break, break, break
Though the Rizzo gonna rake, rake, rake, rake, rake
Barry, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
I don't care what people tweet, 'don't got triple digit heat'
They can't hit what they don’t see, they can't hit what they don’t see
I'm bossin' on my own, paint the corners as I go
And their bats are still too slow, their bats are still too slow
But I keep cruising
Can't stop, won't stop provin'
It's like I got these beat guys in my face
Saying 'When will you be an ace'?
Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Bakey, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Batters gonna break, break, break, break, break
Though the Rizzo gonna rake, rake, rake, rake, rake
Harper, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

JE34 said...

Hot damn! We can put the hothouse flower stories to bed. Finally!

I may have to check with Procter and Gamble to see if Pepto Bismol is available in an IV drip. My stomach lining is probably gone by now.

OK Gio - let's keep the ball down tomorrow!

BxJaycobb said...

Harper. The amount of inferences and hypotheses here is---as you say---way too much to know anything. All we know for sure about this is that
Stras was quite sick.
He said (in some way) he COULD pitch (again....the tone we don't know).
They looked at him and were like "yikes. Let's go with Roark."
Then they apparently gave him tons of new antibiotics (and the world reacted with fury). This morning he said he felt better and could go.
To me, this is like a 99% Team Screwup. (And will all be forgotten given Stras's performance).

Kubla said...

I want to one day find out that Stras was on serious medication tonight and that we get a Dock Ellis type of story out of this performance.

Ryan DC said...

I never want to hear another fucking word about Strasburg's toughness from any of you people ever again.

Dave said...

Stras finally received some much needed runs support. He shut all the big mouths up for another night. Hopefully, the light is at the end of the tunnel. It looked like a few batters were actually starting to see the ball a little better and get the bat on it squarely.

Robot said...

It's hard not to get excited after last night but the team has been closer than this before. There's still plenty of opportunity for a soul-crushing defeat.

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