Dusty Baker told reporters on Thursday that he wasn’t ready to name Washington’s starter for Game 2 of the NLDS at that point. What were the Nationals waiting for before making the decision?
“We just haven't decided yet,” Baker said.
“I mean, you know, we're just thinking of as many scenarios as we can, and if things go great and if things go poorly, and that's why we haven't, you know, decided on it yet.
“[Pitching Coach] Mike Maddux and [GM Mike] Rizzo and myself, we'll probably get together even this afternoon to discuss that. It would be easy if we had [Stephen] Strasburg.”
Without Strasburg, the unstated choice was, presumably, between Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez, and on Friday morning, the Nationals made it official.
Roark would start Game 2.
Baker was asked, before the series opener with the Los Angeles Dodgers, how seriously the Nationals had debated flipping Gonzalez and Roark, and what ultimately made them decide to go with the right-hander?
“Well you know, we weren't debating that much,” Baker said. “We were just kind of messing with you guys, to tell you the truth.”
Roark, in a separate interview, confirmed that he did learn he would get the start at some point on Thursday.
“It was yesterday,” he said when asked when he was told. “You know, I was obviously very excited to get the Game 2 start at home. And to pitch in front of 42,000 people, it's always a good feeling.”
Roark came out of the bullpen twice in the Nationals’ NLDS loss to the San Francisco Giants in 2014, so this afternoon’s outing will be his first postseason start.
“It's definitely a dream come true,” he said. “You know, to get your first start in the postseason. But I'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.”
Roark faced LA earlier this season, back in June, throwing seven scoreless on the mound in Dodger Stadium before he gave up a walk, single and three-run home run in the eighth that turned a 2-0 Nationals’ lead into a 3-2 deficit.
A reporter wondered if there was anything Roark remembered from the first seven innings of that outing that he thought could help this time out?
“I mean, they have faced me before and I've faced them before and I've faced them in previous years,” Roark said. “You just have to go out there -- I remember a lot of the things, the pitches I've thrown and stuff like that to the particular hitters and stuff.
“So go back and definitely watch a little video and read the scouting report, because obviously we've come a long way since June. So they have made adjustments and I've made adjustments myself. So just got to go out there and, again, pitch with your full confidence and not be afraid to make a mistake and be aggressive.”
The Dodgers, of course, have a left-hand heavy lineup with power, but Roark, who held left-handed hitters to a .213/.315/.302 line this season (.236/.299/.349 vs RHBs), said he felt good about his chances going up against the NL West division winners.
“I'm very confident,” Roark said. “Just got to use all my pitches and, you know, keep them off balance and keep them guessing, keep being aggressive in the zone and not trying to nibble or do anything like that. Go right after them.”
Roark finished the regular season with a career-high 16 wins, a 2.83 ERA, a 3.79 FIP, 73 walks (3.13 BB/9) and 172 Ks (7.37 K/9) in 210 IP. He said he’ll try to keep his emotions in check, though even twenty-four hours before he was set to take the mound, he said, he was a little nervous.
“I was already nervous before I woke up this morning,” he joked. “And I'm not pitching till tomorrow.
“It's just the kind of person I am to, you know, want to win and the will to win, and to go out there and see everybody succeed is the ultimate goal.”
His plan going into today’s start, Roark explained, is to, “... just to go out there and do the stuff that I know I can do. You know, pitch with confidence and go as long as I can in the game and literally leave everything out there on the field.”
Roark’s pre-start interview took place before the Nationals dropped the series opener last night, so the outing is even more significant now, and weather permitting he’ll get an opportunity to help Washington even things up before the NLDS matchup shifts coasts.
• We talked about Roark getting the start, last night’s loss, Daniel Murphy getting caught stealing and more on Nats Nightly after Game 1: