A mischievous grin stretched across Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson's mug while discussing which pitcher might fill in a gap in the rotation after Tuesday night's scheduled game against the Los Angeles Dodgers was postponed by rain.
"I'm sure 'Stras' would volunteer," Johnson said, chuckling at his reference to the famously shut-down Stephen Strasburg. "He is right-handed. He has been chompin'."
For the first time since baseball returned to Washington in 2005, September pitching choices made by the Nationals' skipper really do matter. Despite coming off a three-game sweep by the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals own the best record in the majors at 89-57.
Indeed, Washington announced it will put tickets for potential postseason games on sale Friday. The team hasn't finished higher than third place since arriving from Montreal.
"We're close, but the thing is, we're going to do what we've been doing all year, and that's kind of keep our head down and worry about one game at a time. Especially late in the season like this, if you get ahead of yourself, you can get yourself in trouble," reliever Drew Storen said. "We've done a good job all year of not really getting caught up in all that stuff."
With Tuesday's rainout, the 76-71 Dodgers - who are second in a long line of teams fighting for the NL's second wild-card spot - and Nationals will play a single-admission doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. EDT on Wednesday. Johnson expected to use Tuesday's scheduled starter, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, and left-hander John Lannan; Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Aaron Harang and Josh Beckett will be his pitchers.
Harang (9-9, 3.79 ERA) is 0-2 with a 4.71 ERA over his last four starts but 1-1 with a 2.19 ERA in his past four versus Washington, while Beckett - facing the Nats for the first time since 2005 - is 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA in four starts since joining the Dodgers.
Zimmermann (10-8, 3.01) has struggled over the last month, going 1-2 with a 6.03 ERA, and he'll get his first look at Los Angeles since 2009. Lannan (3-0, 2.41), meanwhile, is 4-0 with a 2.28 ERA in his last four starts in this series.
Looking further down the line, Johnson figures he'll need to plug someone into what would have been Zimmermann's next start, on Sunday at home against Milwaukee. He mentioned righties Craig Stammen and Chien-Ming Wang as possible fill-in starters.
"I just don't want any of my good, young pitchers to (come back) on short rest at this point. And I don't think 'Zim' has done it, and he's had a little bit of that inflammation there," Johnson said. "I think he could do it, and have no problem, but it's not something I'd like to do to any of those in the rotation, at this point."
Espinosa thought he might have a torn labrum in his aching left shoulder, but instead found out that it's a bone bruise in the socket. He got a cortisone shot Monday to relieve the pain and hopes to be able to play as soon as Wednesday.
"This is the best news that we could have gotten," Espinosa said. "If this was a rotator cuff tear or a labrum tear, it would have lingered the rest of the season. I would have had to have surgery in the offseason."
Morse was slated to start in the outfield and hit fifth if Tuesday's game had been played. He missed the past four games with a bothersome left wrist.
"It's another day to heal," Johnson said. "Mike was feeling pretty good. He was good to go. We were anxious to have him in the lineup."
The Dodgers got some potentially positive news as well. Closer Kenley Jansen, who has 25 saves, has been cleared to pitch again after being held out since late August because of an irregular heartbeat.
Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, meanwhile, was examined by a hip specialist who said the left-hander can continue to pitch without risking damage to his sore right hip.
The Dodgers, who plan to have Kershaw re-start a throwing program, aren't so certain about his status.
Asked whether Kershaw will pitch again this season, Mattingly replied: "Yeah, maybe. Sounds like there's a chance of it."