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Roark on his career day & why he was allowed to throw 121 pitches

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Roark on his career day & why he was allowed to throw 121 pitches

On Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park a beardless man wearing a No. 57 Tanner Roark jersey took the mound and proceeded to carve up the Minnesota Twins lineup like a sockeye salmon, striking out 15 batters with just two hits allowed in seven scoreless innings.

It was a far cry from the last time we saw that No. 57 uniform in a five-run (4 ER) mishap on April 18 at the Marlins that included seven hits and only two strikeouts in six innings of work. It also didn't correspond with the pitcher who had struck out just nine total batters through his first three outings of 2016.

Wait, that was the same guy?

In the Nats' 2-0 win over the Twins on Saturday, it wasn't just Roark's facial hair that was different. The right-hander somehow made striking out 15 batters look easy despite boasting just one double-digit strikeout performance in any of his previous 88 career MLB appearances, 51 of them starts. That previous career-high for strikeouts in a game was 11, and Roark bested that on Saturday through just 4 2/3 innings pitched.

Suddenly, Roark was a strikeout pitcher, grooving his two-seam fastball sharply to both sides of the plate. His changeup was particularly effective, as well. Heck, all of his pitches were working.

“I don’t think I ever have," Roark said when asked if he had been as sharp before. "I was throwing four pitches to lefties and righties. Keeping them guessing, keeping them uncomfortable up at the plate, trying to get ahead with strike one... I really got to go after it and be aggressive, keep going at the hitters.”

Pitching coach Mike Maddux went into more detail about the two-seamer.

"It's a huge pitch. I mean, it's a bonafide out pitch. You can tell the guy it's coming and it's hard to hang in there. The guys who have that pitch, and Tanner is one of them, you can get a lot of outs. You can get a lot of outs with that pitch. It comes down to execution. You execute it and you see the results, and all of a sudden you grow confident with it and you can't wait to throw it again," he said.

Roark had 14 strikeouts through six innings on 108 pitches and, to the surprise of many, was allowed to go back out for another frame. He threw 13 more pitches to finish the day with 121 through seven. His previous career-high was 112.

Manager Dusty Baker said the decision was made by him and Maddux and after they consulted catcher Wilson Ramos.

"Usually the catcher has a pretty good idea if he still has his stuff. We’ll try not to take him that many pitches too many more times but today was a special day for him," Baker said.

Baker, Maddux and Ramos all weighed in before the call was made. Roark, though, did not.

“Mike’s always said you’re out of the game when we tell you you’re out of the game," Roark explained. "He’s big about don’t ever let your guard down because you never know what happens. If someone gets hurt in the bullpen or what not, you always got to be ready and never let your guard down. I was never told anything. So I never let my guard down. I went in my corner and just stayed silent and stayed focused.”

Maddux broke down why he thought Roark had a little more left in the tank.

"He hadn't labored all day," he said. "He was in the windup the whole time. He was never really stressed with that leadoff double where 'hey, my back is to the wall.' He was in the driver's seat and pitched out of the windup a whole lot today. You look at the stress of the pitches, he was in a good spot. He was able to keep going."

Roark looked like a different pitcher and, as mentioned above, a different guy after shaving off what was a thick beard. The right-hander was asked if his 15-strikeout performance would cause him to shave before his next start in interest of superstition.

“I don’t know. We’ll see where it goes," he said.

[RELATED: Baker has unique thoughts on HBPs: 'That's what you call a fool']

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm