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Tanner Roark calls first-career playoff start 'a dream come true'

Tanner Roark calls first-career playoff start 'a dream come true'

With the Nationals already down 1-0 in their best-of-five series against the Dodgers, they’ll be leaning on their rotation’s secret weapon to help them draw even before heading to L.A.

Indeed, for as impressive as Tanner Roark’s 2016 has been, it has seemingly flown under the radar around the baseball world. He finished the regular season 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA over 210 innings of work, and yet is rarely mentioned when discussing the NL’s top arms.

However, Game 2 of the division series will give him a chance to show the nation what the Nats have already known about him in his four-year big-league career.

“It's definitely a dream come true,” Roark said before NLDS Game 1. “To get your first start in the post-season. But you've got to go out there and be confident in everything that I do, and, you know, be aggressive and keep doing what I did all during the season. Not change anything and just be myself.”

The 29-year-old right hander doesn’t have to be modest when stacking his numbers side-by-side with the NL’s best. Roark has induced the third-most double plays in baseball, and has the most starts of any starter this season of seven or more shutout innings. He may not have the electric fastball or the wipeout slider, but sinker ball has been tough for opposing hitters to square up.

“This guy, he's a horse,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He's a warrior. We feel very comfortable with him on the mound. We know that he's going to fight you every turn and every inning of the game.”

“Oh, yeah, I definitely feel Tanner has been underrated the majority of his career,” added third baseman Anthony Rendon. “He's a bulldog. I love that guy.”

It’s been a somewhat long and winding road for Roark to wind up as one of the Nats’ three best starters. Originally a player to be named later when coming over from the Minnesota Twins in 2010, Roark made his MLB-debut in 2013 as a reliever. A season later, he joined the rotation and broke out, winning 15 games and sporting a 2.85 ERA. But after the Nats signed Max Scherzer in 2015, Roark returned to the bullpen in somewhat of a nebulous role, which came with mixed results.

But the Nats was in need of a starter with Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann departing last offseason, giving Roark a shot to prove that 2014 wasn’t a fluke.

“I asked him [in spring training] ‘Are you a starter or a reliever, which one would you rather do?’ And he told me he wanted to start,” Baker said. “So I said, ‘Okay, I'm going to give you every opportunity to start.’”

The decision paid off, and Roark doesn’t appear to be relinquishing his spot in the rotation again anytime soon. Now it’s up to him to come through for the Nats when they need him most.

“If you're not nervous, you're not human, and you don't care, I feel like,” Roark said. “So for me, being nervous is a good thing. And I'm not starting till tomorrow, so just got to go out there and do my thing. Just be confident and trust my stuff.”

[MORE: MLB COMMISSIONER ROBERT MANFRED EXPLAINS POSTPONEMENT OF NATS-DODGERS]

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Why is Trea Turner’s name on a replica Super Bowl trophy in the Nationals’ clubhouse?

Why is Trea Turner’s name on a replica Super Bowl trophy in the Nationals’ clubhouse?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Yan Gomes walked by a bright, silver emblem which represented his personal joy and has sat in the middle of the Nationals clubhouse as a beacon of trash talk this spring. He stopped, then rubbed his shirtsleeve over it to maintain its gleam.

At first glance, the replica looks precisely like the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And, it’s central location in the clubhouse makes it impossible to miss, which is the point.

“That’s Yan flexing on all of us,” Max Scherzer said, shaking his head.

The trophy is to commemorate Gomes’ fantasy football victory from last year. No one will disclose the cost to enter, but it’s steep. So high that the team split into two leagues last season: The A group, populated by well-heeled veterans, and the B group, who do not have the same cash.

Three names are on the trophy: Gomes, batting practice pitcher Ali Modami, and, in a late addition, Trea Turner.

Gomes and Modami were the co-owners of the winning team. Turner was added to the trophy via trolling tape. His name is hand written and spread across the bottom of the trophy’s base, beneath Gomes and Modami. Why? This is Gomes’ way of simultaneously mocking and thanking Turner for his contribution to the championship after he made a bad trade which vaulted Gomes and Modami to the title.

“I had three good running backs,” Turner said. “So, I traded Nick Chubb, who was doing great at the time, George Kittle, and Carson Wentz for Deshaun Watson, Keenan Allen and John Brown. I needed wide receivers, so I gave up one of my running backs and tight ends for two wide receivers, basically, but...shouldn’t have done it.”

Nothing was formal about the split between who was in the A or B league. No service time requirements or particular stats. It was more about making a financial decision. Erick Fedde, commissioner of the B league, considered his personal fate before choosing.

“I didn’t need my girlfriend killing me for spending a lot of money on fantasy football,” Fedde said.

So, he organized the B league, mostly populated by what he called the “swing guys,” who were mostly young at the major-league level or still in the minor leagues. Carter Kieboom, Tanner Rainey, Jake Noll, Tyler Mapes and Scott Copeland were in the league. So was Javy Guerra, Joe Ross and Austin Voth. Among the biggest challenges? Organizing the draft.

“It was so difficult,” Fedde said. “We were trying to make sure we got the minor-league season done or the big-league guys that were either called up or they weren’t flying. We had a big-league day game like two days after the minor-league season ended, so hopefully everybody was home by then. That was the hardest part. I remember we did our group chat, we did picking names out of the hat with all the guys who were in the big leagues at the time then sent the video to everyone who was down in the minors still. It’s a lot of work being the commissioner of that league.”

Fedde was in four fantasy football leagues last season. He, similar to Turner, became partly responsible for delivering a championship via ill-advised trade in the Nationals B league.

“I made the bad trade this year to the champion,” Fedde said. “Copeland won. I gave up Tyreek Hill. Traded him away because I was like 0-4 to start the year. I needed healthy players. That ended up biting the league in the butt.”

Turner tried to defend his decision-making, which flipped the A league in Gomes’ favor, claiming a bad start did not push him into a panic move.

“I still to this day, I’ll argue for it because I gave up a strength of mine to improve a weakness,” Turner said. “It just didn’t work out. I’m not mad about it. He thinks it’s so funny to put me on that trophy, but he just got lucky.”

Did Turner know he would be on the trophy?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Turner said. “He texted me as soon as he won. I knew that was going to happen. He’s having the time of his life. I’ll let him enjoy it.”

Gomes again walked by the trophy later Wednesday and paused for a minute. He shot a look across the clubhouse, then moved on. Turner lurked with revenge on his mind.

“Next season is coming up here pretty quick,” Turner said. “He’s going to have to redo it all again or else he’s going to be wearing it himself.”

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Mark Lerner ribs Davey Martinez after walking in on his World Series ring fitting

Mark Lerner ribs Davey Martinez after walking in on his World Series ring fitting

The Nationals haven’t seen what their World Series rings will look like just yet, but on Wednesday players and coaches were fitted for the highly coveted jewelry they’ll be receiving during their first homestand in April.

Manager Davey Martinez’s ring sizing was caught on camera, and an unexpected guest arrived as he was trying a sample ring on.

Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner had to poke fun at his skipper, saying, "Oh no, no, no. He's not getting one. He was never on the list.” Martinez wasn’t recognized by the ring specialist—something that wasn’t a first for him this offseason despite being the reigning World Series-winning manager—but settled on a size-10 ring for his left index finger.

The Nationals are set to receive their championship rings April 4 before their contest with the New York Mets that afternoon.

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