Tanner Roark's third outing of the spring didn't get off to a great start. He walked Houston's leadoff man, Dexter Fowler, in the bottom of the first, then, with Fowler in scoring position at second after a "productive" groundout, Washington's 27-year-old rotation candidate gave up a one-out RBI double to deep center off Astros' catcher Jason Castro's bat as the home team got out to a 1-0 lead early this afternoon in the Nationals' rain-delayed Grapefruit League game in Kissimmee, Florida's Osceola County Stadium.
"I was rushing a little bit and trying to make too perfect of a pitch on [Dexter] Fowler," Roark said afterwards of the free pass he issued to the 'Stros' outfielder. "That's not a good way to start. But I settled back in. Me and [pitching coach Steve] McCatty talked a little bit about staying back a little bit more and I felt a lot better."
"I felt I had a lot more command of my offspeed [stuff], got a feel for it finally," Roark said, "and that has a lot to do with staying back so you can stay on top of the ball and get through it a lot better."
Roark walked Astros' first baseman Marc Krauss in the first too, putting two on with two out, but stranded both runners at the end of a 25-pitch frame. He needed 13 pitches to get through a quick, 1-2-3 second, but Castro got him again in the third, hitting a wind-aided, two-run home run to right after Fowler doubled to start the inning. Roark came back out for the fourth inning and got Matt Dominguez looking with his 62nd pitch of the game, which ended up being his last.
Roark's line: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 Ks, 62 P.
In three appearances this spring, Roark, who debuted in the majors last season, has allowed nine hits, two walks and four runs, all earned, while striking out six in eight innings. He said today he was happy with the outing, though there was, of course, room for improvement.
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"Of course there are always things," he said. "I'm my biggest critic."
Roark pointed to the leadoff walk to Fowler and the pitch he threw to Castro that ended up bouncing off the warning track.
The problem there, Roark said, was, "... just not getting it down far enough, because once you get it up in that wind it's going to carry far."
Roark is in camp competing for the fifth spot in the rotation coming off a breakthrough season in 2013 which saw him go (9-3) with a 3.15 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 20 walks (1.70 BB/9) and 84 Ks (7.15 K/9) in 33 games, 11 starts and 105 2/3 IP for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs before he was called up to make his major league debut.
In 14 games with the Nationals, five of them starts, Roark was (7-1), with a 1.51 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 11 walks (1.84 BB/9) and 40 Ks (6.71 K/9) in 53 2/3 IP.
Asked if he was thinking a lot about the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation, he said, "No."
"Don't even think about it," Roark continued. "Try not to think about it. Just go out there and do the best I can and help out the ballclub as best I can."
He said this winter that he would, of course, like to start, but said he would be happy with any role on the Nationals' roster.
"Whatever I can do to help out the team," he said again today. "I want to make the team, very badly, and whatever I can help out the team with.
Matt Williams traveled to Kissimmee for the split squad with the Astros because it was televised, so he get a change practice working with the new replay rules, but he said it was a bad day to judge pitchers.
"Days like today are tough," Williams told reporters, "because the wind is blowing and the sun and all that stuff, it's not a true feel."
Though the wind helped Jason Castro's blast get out of the yard, Roark gave him credit for crushing the pitch, a hanging breaking ball he served up for the catcher.
"The home run," Roark said, "I hung it. Hung the heck out of it."