Cardinals-Nationals Preview

Stephen Strasburg joined his teammates for an off-day workout at

Nationals Park on Tuesday, red socks pulled nearly up to his knees

while tossing baseballs in the outfield a day before the first

postseason game in the nation’s capital in 79 years.

That’s about the extent of activity these days for Strasburg as

the Washington Nationals carry on without their acknowledged ace,

shut down a month ago.

The NL East champions’ opponent right now, the St. Louis

Cardinals, are very much counting on their returning ace, Chris

Carpenter, who has pitched only 17 innings all year. Carpenter will

be on the mound Wednesday afternoon for Game 3 of the NL division

series, facing Washington’s Edwin Jackson. The best-of-five series

is tied at 1.

The 37-year-old Carpenter had surgery in July for a nerve

problem that left his throwing arm and much of the right side of

his body numb. He came back on Sept. 21, and is 0-2 with a 3.71 ERA

in three starts.

”Everybody knows that it wasn’t supposed to happen,” Carpenter

said about the prospect of pitching at all in 2012. ”I put a lot

of work into it, to hopefully have this opportunity. I didn’t know

if I was going to have this opportunity or not – and fortunately, I


He is 9-2 with a 3.05 ERA in the postseason for his career.

That includes going 4-0 with a 3.25 ERA last year while helping

St. Louis win the World Series; he beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7

for the title.

”Him winning the World Series last year or whenever isn’t going

to do anything for him tomorrow,” Nationals third baseman Ryan

Zimmerman said. ”He’s a great pitcher, and nobody’s taking

anything away from him in that aspect, but tomorrow we’re going to

go out there with our plan and try and do what we’ve done all


Which was good enough to own the best record in the major

leagues at 98-64.

Strasburg played a key role up until his final start, a

three-inning outing on Sept. 7. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009

amateur draft went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA with 197 strikeouts in 159

1-3 innings.

General manager Mike Rizzo made quite clear all season that his

prized right-hander’s innings would be limited in his first full

season back from Sept. 3, 2010, reconstructive elbow surgery.

”I bet the kid has to be going crazy, being in the situation

where he is,” said Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran, who hit

two of his team’s four homers Monday in Game 2. ”He pitched all

regular season, and right now he’s not available for them.”

Unable to put Strasburg on the mound now, the Nationals used

playoff rookies Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in Games 1 and


”The starting pitching, we showed a little inexperience

there,” manager Davey Johnson said. ”I mean, not going right

after hitters – and also not pitching.”

Washington now needs to rebound from that 12-4 loss in Game 2 at

St. Louis, although the Nationals prefer to focus on having taken

one of their two road games at the outset of the series.

Going up against Carpenter will be his former teammate Jackson,

the only starting pitcher on Washington’s roster who ever had

participated in a playoff game before this season. He was a member

of the Cardinals’ championship club in 2011, and his overall

postseason mark is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA.

He went 10-11 this season, but Washington’s record in Jackson’s

starts was only 12-19.

”It’s high expectations on me. I have high expectations on

myself, as well,” the right-hander said. ”This is one of those

games where you go out and you try to lead by example.”

That’s certainly the sort of thing the Cardinals expect from

Carpenter, who won the 2005 Cy Young Award and helped St. Louis win

a title the following year.

His mere presence on the diamond Wednesday is a big deal to his


”I saw that first hand, all the time he spent in the training

room and weight room and getting back to the point, and you can’t

help but feed off that,” said Cardinals center field John Jay, who

made a spectacular wall-crashing catch in Game 2. ”Especially a

guy (who’s) been there before. It would have been easy for him, as

someone who has two rings and he’s made his money in this game, to

say `You know what? I’ll be back next year.’ But he wanted to be

out there for us.”

Strasburg would certainly prefer to still be pitching for


But Rizzo said Tuesday ”there’s no sense of thinking” about

that possibility at this point.

”We love the pitching staff we have. It’s the best pitching

staff in major league baseball, with and without Stephen,” Rizzo

continued, standing near the red-white-and-blue postseason logo

painted on his ballpark’s grass for the first time, ”and these are

the guys that we have in the playoff series, and we’re going to go

forward with them.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at