Tanner Roark took it pretty well when he was told he would be pitching out of the bullpen last October, after a +3.0 fWAR regular season in which he went (15-10) in 31 starts with a 2.85 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 39 walks (1.77 BB/9) and 138 Ks (6.25 K/9) in 198 ⅔ IP. Before the postseason began, Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams lined up Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister for the first three games of the NLDS with the San Francisco Giants, with Gio Gonzalez available for Game 4, if necessary.
"'No disappointment,'" Roark told Washington Post writer James Wagner in what the WaPost reporter described as Roark's "typical nonchalant manner."
"'I kinda figured that’s what it would be,'" Roark said. "'It is what it is.'"
Roark said much the same this weekend when asked about how the Nationals' signing of free agent right-hander Max Scherzer to a 7-year/$210M deal seems to have once again pushed him out of the mix for the starting rotation, at least as it stands now and barring any trades or injuries this Spring.
"'What are you going to say? You can't worry about it,'" Roark told reporters including MASN's Chris Johnson:
"'Some things you have no control over. I don't make those calls. The manager does. The GM does. The owner does. I play for them. I play for the team. And I'm just fortunate enough, as hard as I've worked and the mental part of the game I've been through, it's helped me out tremendously. Can't let it bother you. The more stuff in your head, the more you think about it and it's just going to mess you up.'"
Matt Williams told reporters on Saturday, after the first official workout of the Spring, that he isn't surprised at all about the way Roark approaches these things.
"He's phenomenal," Williams said. "It doesn't change whether it's starting, relieving, where he pitches in that rotation."
"When I give him the ball and it's his day to pitch, he's excited and ready to pitch and he competes and, boy, you can't ask for any more than that."
For now, though he may end up in the bullpen, Roark will continue to work as a starter.
"He's going to start," Williams explained, "and we'll evaluate how everything goes through this Spring Training season. But he is going to train as a starter and he'll start for us during the course of the Spring."
Williams was asked if he'd spoken to Roark about the possibility of the right-hander ending up in the bullpen again, where he posted a 1.19 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .180/.247/.195 line over 22 ⅓ IP in his rookie campaign in 2013.
"What I can't tell him, I can't say, 'This is the plan,' because the plan can change," the second-year skipper said. "You just don't know, so he's training as if he's going to start every fifth day.
"If we get to the point where we have to make an adjustment on that, he's aware that that is a possibility and we'll make that adjustment. But right now he's going to be one of our six or seven starters in Spring Training and we'll go from there."
So, if Roark does eventually move to the bullpen, will he be in a long-relief role? Or could he possibly end up in the back-end of the 'pen pitching high-leverage innings?
Williams was asked if Roark could end up a late-inning reliever?
"Yeah, because he ticks up," Williams said. "He ticks up when he gets in the bullpen. He goes from 90 to 93 to 92 to 95. And so that's an opportunity. The fact that he can come in and he feels confident and we certainly feel confident, that when he comes in he throws strikes, he changes speeds, he holds baserunners, he fields his position. All of those things speak to both of them. But, again, it's a little bit of a different look, the bullpen this year, and there's opportunity in that regard for him and everybody else to solidify those roles as we go."