With Denard Span ready to rejoin the team after an extended stint on the disabled list, the Nationals have optioned reliever Tanner Roark to Single-A Potomac.
While that may seem like a demotion for Roark, the three-year veteran will have a rewarding goal to work towards. The Nats plan to transition Roark back to starting and have him come back to Washington on Sept. 1 when rosters expand.
If all goes well, Roark will take the rotation spot of rookie Joe Ross, who is in uncharted territory in terms of innings pitched. Ross has thrown 136 2/3 innings this season, up from his total of 121 2/3 in 2014. The most he's ever pitched in one season is 122 1/3, a personal-high he set in 2013.
The Nationals are vague about exactly how many innings Ross will be allowed to throw, but will admit he's nearing his team-imposed limit.
"That’s a decision that we’ll have to make if and when we have to make it. But, he’s in uncharted territory. So, it’s a start-to-start, day to day, if you will," Matt Williams said. "And we’ll have to see where he goes from here, but we want to be prepared if in fact that time come. Where it’s time to shut him down, then we have somebody that is stretched out and ready to go."
Roark, according to Williams, will begin by throwing around 60 pitches in a start with Potomac. From there he will go to 80 pitches in his second outing, and then possibly be ready to come back to Washington.
"I would not anticipate him being down there for more than 10 days, more than the minimum," Williams said.
Roark goes to the minor leagues for the first time this season and for the first time since his first MLB call-up on Aug. 6 of 2013. He has bounced back and forth within the Nats' pitching staff this year, beginning as a reliever, then moving to starter, and then back to the bullpen.
Through all of it he has experienced some inconsistent results and holds a 4.54 ERA in 34 total games. Going back to starting is likely good news to him, but Williams explained that it is never fun for a big leaguer to go back down to the minors.
"It’s still not easy. The guy won 15 games last year. It’s not easy to do that at any time, but often times those decisions have to be made and we have to prepare. We have to make sure that if in fact Joe is at his limit in sometime in September, then we have somebody that’s prepared to do it," Williams said.