Tanner Roark will return to the Nationals’ rotation next week, making a start at Wrigley Field in place of the injured Doug Fister.
Roark will start either Monday’s series opener or Tuesday night’s game against the Cubs, according to manager Matt Williams, depending if he’s needed at all out of the bullpen this weekend against the Phillies.
“It depends on what happens in our games the next three days, whether we have to use him or not,” Williams said. “So we’ll make that determination as we get closer.”
Roark, who has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen so far this season, faced live hitters Friday afternoon in something akin to a simulated game designed to start stretching out his arm for longer appearances.
Williams said the right-hander should be good to throw roughly 70 pitches in a start early next week.
“He’s been to 50,” the manager said. “We feel comfortable with him going at least 70-ish. With his repertoire, there’s no reason he can’t go extended in a game at 70 pitches. We’ll see where he’s at.”
This is the role the Nationals envisioned for Roark (a 15-game winner last season as a starter) after they signed Max Scherzer to his record, $210-million contract over the winter. But when the need for a fill-in starter became necessary last month when Scherzer had a sprained thumb, the Nationals turned instead to rookie A.J. Cole, recognizing Roark didn’t have enough time to build his arm up and wouldn’t be needed for a second start.
In this case, it appears obvious Roark’s return to the rotation won’t be brief. Fister went on the 15-day disabled list May 15 with tightness in his forearm, and the right-hander hasn’t yet been cleared to resume throwing.
“We don’t know that yet,” Williams said when asked if Roark will make several starts. “The longer Doug goes without throwing, the more he’s going to have to build. I think it depends on where Doug’s at. But we have to have a starter on one of those days, so we can’t argue with a -game winner. So he’s going to get that turn.”