By Howard Fendrich
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON — Stephen Strasburg‘s relationship with the postseason always has been complicated.
Still is, in a way.
For all of his regular-season excellence since the Washington Nationals made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft — the 14-strikeout debut, the 84-45 career record, the 3.07 ERA — Strasburg has thrown all of five playoff innings for a team that has won four of the past six NL East titles.
“The talent and the way he throws the ball and the way he knows how to pitch and the way he competes has always been one of the best,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said Tuesday after the team’s NL Division Series workout at Nationals Park. “It’s just a matter of him being able to stay on the mound.”
Strasburg’s lone postseason appearance came in 2014. Otherwise, there was the infamous shutdown in 2012, and an arm injury last year. This time around, Strasburg is healthy. The question is when he’ll be on the mound against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs: Game 1 on Friday? Or Game 2 on Saturday?
“We really haven’t decided exactly,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “We have a couple days to decide.”
The extenuating factor is reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer‘s health. He tweaked his right hamstring in his final regular-season start and says that while he can run and lift weights with that leg, a full throwing motion hurts. So while Strasburg tossed a bullpen session off a mound Tuesday — the sort of thing he normally would do two or three days before a start — Scherzer was limited to throwing in the outfield grass.
Scherzer plans to test his leg in a bullpen session Wednesday.
“We really haven’t determined what game we’re eyeing yet. The first and foremost thing is just making sure that whenever I do take the ball, I’m able to go out there and compete the way I’m able to compete,” Scherzer said.
Asked whether he’s certain he will face the Cubs, Scherzer replied: “Oh, I’m pitching in the NLDS. I’m pitching in the NLDS.”
So, too, is the 6-foot-4 Strasburg, for a change.
And he’s been every bit Scherzer’s equal — if not better — down the stretch this season. In his last eight starts, Strasburg went 5-1 with a 0.84 ERA.
“Stephen’s really good. Everybody knows that. He’s Stephen Strasburg,” left fielder Jayson Werth said. “But to have a healthy Stephen Strasburg, and one that’s clicking also going into the postseason, it’s going to be really good to have. We’ve definitely missed him a couple times. So to have him — and in shape, in form — is going to be huge for us.”
Overall in 2017, Strasburg went 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and 204 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings. He made 28 starts, his most since 2014, which could be a result of various changes he made to his offseason and in-season routines.
That includes pitching out of the stretch no matter the situation, reducing the number of elbow-straining sliders he throws and running longer distances during the winter to prepare.
Not that he is all that willing to discuss those sorts of things.
“I mean, I just, like, put in a lot of work in the offseason and stuff and you just try to listen to your arm the whole year and try not to tweak stuff too much,” said Strasburg, who begins a $175 million, seven-year contract next season. “It’s got its ups and downs. You try to focus on what you can control.”