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Confidence boost for Roark, even in loss

Sep 29, 2015, 11:36 PM EDT

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ATLANTA — It was a loss, one of seven he has suffered this season, one of 77 the Nationals collectively have endured in 2015. So Tanner Roark couldn’t exactly be all smiles in the clubhouse at Turner Field after Tuesday night’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Braves.

Roark, though, did his share of grinning, and deservedly so. Because his performance — 6 2/3 innings of 2-run, 5-hit ball — was a positive development, a much-needed one for the right-hander in his penultimate appearance of a difficult season.

“Definitely it feels very good,” he said. “Just building my confidence up, knowing I can go deep into games and get into the 100s in pitch count and still perform.”

That’s not something Roark had done in awhile. In four previous starts since rejoining the Nationals’ rotation, he had yet to reach the sixth inning and hadn’t thrown more than 82 pitches. This time, he reached the seventh and totaled 104 pitches.

And he was effective throughout the entire appearance, making only two mistakes along the way: a 1-1 curveball to A.J. Pierzynski in the bottom of the fourth, then a 3-2 fastball to Pierzynski in the bottom of the seventh. The veteran catcher launched both over the fence, accounting for all of Atlanta’s runs on the night.

Roark and the Nationals, though, could take far more positives out of this start than negatives. Perhaps most importantly, he reminded himself he actually can be more effective when he purposely eases up on the gas pedal and doesn’t try to throw as hard as he can.

Throughout the season, much of which he has spent in the bullpen making shorter appearances, Roark has surprised everyone by dialing up his velocity, consistently hitting 95 mph with his fastball for the first time in his career. He has come to realize, though, that he’s not an overpowering pitcher, that he’s better off not throwing as hard but getting more movement and locating better down in the zone.

“Yeah, it showed tonight,” he said. “There were a couple pitches I let loose. But for the most part, I was just trying to hit my spot and stay down in the zone.

“Coming out of the bullpen for an inning or whatever, you feel great … for the most part. And you have a little extra 1-2 mph to your fastball. Of course you see that and it kind of tricks you into thinking, ‘Man, I could blow everything by them.’ But then you lose your location. Letting the ball move, using the sinker more and command down in the zone.”

It was that philosophy — and execution — that allowed Roark to win 15 games and post a 2.85 ERA as a full-time starter last season. Shuttling back and forth between roles this year, he perhaps lost his way, trying to be something he was not.

Perhaps this extended stint back in the rotation, where he wanted to be all along, could help Roark rediscover himself and head into the offseason feeling much better about his place within the organization.

“That’s his comfort zone, certainly,” manager Matt Williams said. “The way we stacked coming out of spring training, he was unfortunately in the bullpen. That’s a good thing for our team as a whole. But it doesn’t allow him to feel that rhythm as much. When he gets a chance to start, he feels it more.”

  1. derwink - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:30 AM

    Nice to see him have a good outing. He can be an important part of the rotation again next year. Plus, he’s proven that he’s a team guy by accepting his role in the bullpen this year.

    • veejh - Sep 30, 2015 at 7:44 AM

      I think he can become effective again as a starter next year. Really, there aren’t many other options, so we’ve got to roll with him and hope he can come close to what he pulled off in 2014.

  2. rabbit433 - Sep 30, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    Through 104 pitches into the 7th inning!!!! Wow, give the man another $5,000,000 !!!!

    • ptindc - Sep 30, 2015 at 9:59 AM

      Well, technically, he would have to earn hist FIRST five million before he can be paid another. He is being paid $526k this year.

  3. rabbit433 - Sep 30, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    Threw…sorry.

  4. natsfan1a - Sep 30, 2015 at 8:02 AM

    Good for Roark. He did everything asked of him this season, and without complaint (at least as far as I know). I’m glad for him.

  5. NatsNut - Sep 30, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    Im so glad. I had hoped he just needed to get back in the swing of starting again ti get his groove back. Really hope he is in the rotation all year next year.

  6. Doc - Sep 30, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    Roark going back and forth from the ‘pen to the rotation was a failed experiment.

    Look forward to seeing Tanner do his Greg Maddux impersonation in the rotation next year.

    • ArVAFan - Sep 30, 2015 at 10:05 AM

      Yep. Hope Rizzo is listening/watching. Nice try, but Roark is just better as a starter. And I’m glad he’s getting the chance to prove it, albeit too late for this year. And a bargain at the price.

  7. joemktg - Sep 30, 2015 at 9:38 AM

    Sorry: I’m compelled to go back to the Desmond bunt…

    MZ tweet:
    Desmond explained he didn’t run right out of box on bunt because he was worried he’d run into Pierzynski and be called out for interference.

    Calling BS on this. After the bunt initially hits the ground, he’s in the batters box looking up at the bounced ball in the air as Pierzynski is doing the same. His focus is on the ball in the air after the bounce, not on Pierzynski, while he’s standing in the box. Here’s what he didn’t do: instead of looking up at the ball, he didn’t make any motion to take off towards first.

    That’s what happened. And it’s yet another example of the 2015 campaign debacle.

  8. ArVAFan - Sep 30, 2015 at 10:15 AM

    Speaking of Ian, I was surprised to see that he made a rather short “five-tool player” list, by their somewhat arbitrary criteria. But there he is. Have a nice contract, Ian!

    http://m.mlb.com/news/article/152163938/trout-cain-among-statcast-five-tool-stars

    • trfwans - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:34 AM

      Desmond has always had all five tools, and still does. He’s just never figured how to keep them all sharp at the same time.

  9. Candide - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:43 PM

    Can the Nats resolve now that Tanner is a starter next year, come hell or high water? And that whatever bullpen problems we might have don’t get solved by shuttling an effective starter in and out of half a dozen different roles?

    If you want someone to be a starter and a reliever and be effective at both, you need to go to Mexa, Texas and ask the folks there where you can find Firpo Marberry. He’s pitched in Washington before, so…

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