By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – Before he left Wrigleyville on Tuesday evening, Cubs manager Joe Maddon had a hunch what was coming.
Despite word from Nationals manager Dusty Baker that No. 4 starter Tanner Roark would start the rescheduled Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday afternoon, Maddon had a feeling it would still be Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals’ $175-million arm who was dealing with an illness. Maddon had no mole planted in the visitors’ clubhouse or leak of central intelligence, just a feeling.
“Personally, I have no intelligence,” Maddon joked on the issue of Strasburg.
Maddon arrived in Wrigley Field’s Audi Club early Wednesday afternoon feeling calm and confident ahead of Game 4 and the chance for a third consecutive trip to the NL Championship Series. The same can’t be said for the Nationals, who have looked circus-like in the national spotlight.
After Tuesday’s postponement, Baker announced to the media that Roark would make his scheduled start despite Strasburg having the chance to pitch on full rest in an elimination game. At the time, it seemed to be a stunner given that the Nationals gained an edge with an ace on full rest. Baker explained that Strasburg was “under the weather,” curiously citing the weather, hotel air conditioning and the “mold” in the Chicago air.
Then came a USA Today report Tuesday evening that claimed Strasburg declined the opportunity to start because of an illness. It was a bad look for Strasburg, who was rewarded in 2016 with a mega-deal despite unfulfilled expectations for his franchise.
So the Nationals went to work doing damage control for Strasburg, who threw seven innings and allowed two unearned runs while striking out 10 in a strong Game 1 start. General manager Mike Rizzo made an unexpected visit with the media early Wednesday afternoon and explained the events that took place, saying that Strasburg has been ill since Friday and taking IVs and getting treatment to be ready.
“This morning, he woke up feeling much more like Stephen Strasburg,” Rizzo said.
Baker addressed the media shortly after and denied the notion that Strasburg was pressured into making the start by disappointed teammates. Pedro Gomez of ESPN tweeted that a recently retired pitcher texted saying Strasburg was “shamed” into starting.
“We didn’t put that pressure on him,” Baker said.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are just going about their business and preparing for the opportunity to party again in their massive clubhouse. The switch from Roark to Strasburg meant a simple lineup tweak, with Jason Heyward inserted into right field and batting seventh, Ben Zobrist flipped from right to left field and Kyle Schwarber taking a seat. Heyward is 15-of-37 in his career against Strasburg.
Though Strasburg was dominant in Game 1, Maddon is confident in the Cubs, their adjustments and his man on the mound, Jake Arrieta.
“This time of the year, you try to control the controllables,” Maddon said. “That is not something in your control – who they want to pitch – of course not. You can’t let stuff like that bother you, ever.
“All that stuff doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. I don’t worry about stuff like that. Our players don’t. We’ll tee it up at the right time, go out there and do our normal game.
“It’s about Jake, more (than) what they’re doing.”