Tanner Roark will make his first start of the season Monday in Chicago without much time to build up his arm after seven weeks spent in the Nationals’ bullpen. But the right-hander doesn’t expect that to mean much when he takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Memorial Day.
“Nothing, really,” he said. “You’ve just got to go out there and do your thing. I mean, you prepare as much as you can, but this is my first start of the season. I’m sure there’s a pitch limit. I feel like I could throw 100 pitches. At least, that’s what I think. But you’ve just got to prepare the best that you can and treat it like you would any start.”
Relegated to relief duties this season after the acquisition of Max Scherzer, Roark finally gets his first chance to return to the rotation after going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts in 2014. His transition to the bullpen has gone quite smoothly, despite the fact he’s pitched in several different roles so far, from long relief to setup work and even the ninth inning once for his first career save.
Roark, who has a 2.66 ERA in 13 appearances spanning 20 1/3 innings, believes his variety of roles and uncertainty from day-to-day actually could help him as he transitions back to starting.
“Going to the bullpen helped me, because when you’re coming out of the pen you know you’ve got to be ready right off the bat, go right at guys right away,” he said. “I think that helped me, mentality-wise, to not hold anything back. When I’m starting, I think that’s a big key.”
Pitching in shorter bursts has been good for Roark’s velocity. He has hit 95-96 mph with his fastball several times in the last few weeks. “I don’t even know where that came from, honestly,” he said. “If I have it when I’m starting, then I’m definitely going to use that.”
Roark may not be able to dial it up quite that much as a starter, lest he wants to run out of steam in only a couple of innings.
“If he knows it’s a 1-inning stint, then he can let it go,” manager Matt Williams said. “But if he knows that he’s going to have to get out there for 4 or 5, then I don’t expect that velocity to be 94-95 mph all the time. We’ve seen it a couple of times, where he understands the process of the game that we’re playing that particular day. … And given his starting background, he knows how to pace his way through innings. I expect it to be the same as it was in the past: 90-93, with all of his pitches.”
Roark is taking the rotation spot that became available when Doug Fister landed on the disabled list with a strained flexor muscle in his forearm. Fister’s timetable to return remains unclear — he has yet to begin throwing — but it’s clear this won’t be a one-time start for Roark and that he’ll be in the rotation for at least a few turns.
Whatever the case, the 28-year-old insists he’ll continue to do whatever the Nationals ask of him, never making a fuss over it.
“Like I’ve said, I have no control over it, so why am I going to let it bother me? There’s no point,” he said. “What am I going to do, complain to coaches or teammates? Nobody else cares, I don’t care, that I’m out in the bullpen. It is what it is. Whenever it be — in the eighth, long relief, two outs, spot starting, whatever — I’m out here to get outs. I just like to be out there and compete.”