- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2017

Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker finally announced the team’s Game 1 starter Thursday morning, and it was as expected.

Stephen Strasburg, who had his best professional season, will start Friday night’s opener of the National League Division Series in Nationals Park between the Nationals and Chicago Cubs.

It’s the Game 2 starter that remains unknown.

Washington ace Max Scherzer was expected to throw a bullpen session Thursday, but, like Wednesday when the Nationals also said Scherzer was expected to throw a bullpen session, he did not.

Instead, the Cy Young Award candidate spent part of his day again throwing from flat ground in right field at Nationals Park. He was watched by team trainer Paul Lessard, who went to talk with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo following the throwing session.

Before Scherzer threw in the outfield, Baker said Scherzer or Gio Gonzalez will start Game 2. Gonzalez threw a bullpen session Thursday, which would align him to start Game 2 Saturday night at Nationals Park.

Baker also said that Scherzer would pitch Game 3 on Oct. 9 in Chicago if he did not pitch Game 2.

Scherzer left his final regular-season start Sept. 30 because of a cramp in his right hamstring. The issue was later called a “tweak” of the hamstring. Scherzer said he could run and walk the next day. However, the hamstring problem showed up when he would pitch from a mound with maximum effort.

Baker said Thursday that “we” held back Scherzer from his Wednesday session in the bullpen..

Additionally, Baker mentioned considerations for the future in the planning. He said thoughts about the possibility of protecting Scherzer’s availability for the next round, should the Nationals advance, is part of the process, too. His point there was that Scherzer’s ongoing health was the prime concern no matter when he pitched.

Gonzalez, the Nationals’ lone left-handed starter, had his best season since 2012. He finished with a 2.96 ERA, which rose at the close of the season during a mediocre September and one bad start in October that came on the final day of the season when Gonzalez was sick and also irritated he was pitching.

He has been very effective in his career against current hitters on the Cubs. They hold just a .198 average against Gonzalez. One of Chicago’s left-handed power hitters, Anthony Rizzo, is just 2-for-22 against Gonzalez.

Should Gonzalez pitch Game 2, he will be available in Game 5, if it’s necessary, on regular rest. If Scherzer pitches Game 3, that all but eliminates him from being available to start Game 5.

Chicago announced its four starters Wednesday. Kyle Hendricks will pitch Game 1. Jon Lester will pitch Game 2, Jose Quintana Game 3 and Jake Arrieta Game 4.

Scherzer’s hamstring issue could have a trickle-down effect on the Nationals’ 25-man postseason roster for the NLDS. The possibility of a problem for Scherzer could lead to the Nationals selecting a relief pitcher who could deliver multiple innings. Edwin Jackson could fill that role.

Thursday, both reliever Matt Grace and infielder Adrian Sanchez were seen packing and saying goodbye to teammates, making clear they would not be on the roster.

The Nationals’ 25-man roster has to be named by 10 a.m. Friday.

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