Jim Leyland explained his decision to start Washington Nationals’ righty Tanner Roark tonight, in the U.S.A.’s semi-final matchup with Japan, when he met with reporters in a press conference on Monday in LA’s Dodger Stadium.
Roark, 30, struggled in his one appearance for the United States before tonight, giving up three hits, two walks and three runs in 1 1⁄3 innings pitched in a 7-5 first-round loss to the Dominican Republic back on March 11th.
“We piggybacked him in a game, and he struggled a little bit,” Leyland told reporters.
“I think he threw 40 pitches. I think he's an outstanding pitcher. He's gotten the short end of the stick a little bit so far, to be honest with you, the way things worked out.
“But he deserves this start. There is no doubt in my mind about it. I feel great about it.
“He's been a trooper. He signed up for this event, and I'm pitching him. I feel very, very comfortable about it.”
Roark’s outing against the Dominican Republic was his first relief appearance since last July 10th, when he went 2 1⁄3 scoreless against New York’s Mets in the first-half finale.
Over 207 2⁄3 innings as a starter in 2016, the veteran right-hander put up a 2.86 ERA, a 3.82 FIP and a .227/.309/.330 line against, with 3.16 BB/9 and 7.37 K/9 on the year.
Roark told reporters he stayed sharp over the last ten days by throwing in the bullpen and getting in whatever work he could while he waited for another opportunity.
“Just trying to stay within myself and since I haven't been out there on the mound so much and facing hitters,” Roark said.
“Just trying to stay mentally focused on the game, even though I'm not in there.
“Just watching how the hitters react, and just watching and trying to learn as much as I can from all these guys.”
Japan’s skipper Hiroki Kokubo told reporters they did their homework on Roark as they prepared for tonight’s game, and he offered the following brief scouting report.
“We checked him out,” Kokubo said. “He pitches and lets the hitter ground out, so has very good control. He throws to the corners.”
How will Roark’s control be after a ten-day layoff from live action? How long will he be on the mound?
It could be a relatively brief outing for Roark since he hasn’t pitched much recently, but it’s a big start, probably the biggest of his career in his own estimation.
“It's definitely a big game for myself and for the rest of the guys in the clubhouse. So we're just going to go out there and do our thing, play together, have fun, and give it our all,” Roark said on Monday.
Here’s the United States’ lineup for tonight’s semi-final matchup with Japan: