By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The mystery of the illness surrounding Nationals ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg received some answers early Wednesday afternoon.
The much-maligned Strasburg is now healthy enough to answer the bell and start Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. It’s an elimination game for Washington, which trails 2-1, and news of Strasburg officially starting didn’t break until around 11:45 a.m. as the Nationals evaluated his health.
Strasburg took some IVs and antibiotics — in addition to some prodding from the sidelines — before deciding to go. After Tuesday’s contest was rained out, the Nationals initially said No. 4 starter Tanner Roark will still start because Strasburg was ill. The rainout is allowing Strasburg to pitch on full rest.
“I said under the weather about him — that was kind of broad, because I did not feel the need to tell everybody what the exact problem was or how sick he was,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday afternoon. “Plus, I am not a doctor. I do know what chills feel like. I do know what flu-like symptoms are. I did not feel the need to say exactly what the symptoms were.”
The old-school Baker didn’t think Strasburg would recover in time to pitch Wednesday. Strasburg was dominant in Game 1 even though he suffered the loss, going seven innings and allowing two unearned runs on three hits while striking out 10.
“He will be 90 percent,” Baker said of Strasburg before turning his attention to the rest of the team. “All hands will be on deck. Max (Scherzer) is available today and tomorrow (in a potential Game 5) if needed. Hopefully, we don’t have the need to use him. Max is one of those guys who needs time to get warmed up.”
Roark remains a possibility for a potential Game 5 start Thursday, so Baker will likely not use him in Game 4 now.
Amid the confusion, the Cubs were non-plussed. They simply plugged Jason Heyward in for Kyle Schwarber in the outfield after receiving word that Strasburg was taking the hill.
“It really does not matter,” manager Joe Maddon said of Strasburg pitching. “We just shifted our lineup a bit. I have Heyward in instead of Schwarber because of his numbers (.405 lifetime) against Strasburg. I did not want to run away from using Jon Jay. He is playing too good. This time of year, you try to control the controllable. It really does not matter. Who they want to pitch is not something you can control. So you cannot let stuff like that bother you.”
The Cubs expect Strasburg to throw as well as in Game 1.
“It does not change anything for us and what we do,” outfielder Jon Jay said. “Our offense, the idea is just to go out there and do what we are capable of doing. For us, this is another game. Today is a new day. Anything can happen. We will be ready to fight and ready to play.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.