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Washington Nationals’ starter Tanner Roark out to prove doubters wrong... again

Tanner Roark is using his up-and-down start to the 2017 campaign as motivation to prove his doubters wrong and help the Nationals down the stretch...

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Talking to MASN’s Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight after his outing against Philadelphia last week in D.C., Tanner Roark chalked his first half struggles up to thinking too much and not just trusting his stuff.

“Just got to trust that’s it’s going to be there and that’s what I’ve been working on the second half,” Roark said. “Just going out there and be confident in myself and my stuff and go right and attack them.”

His two-seamer, in particular, was a pitch Roark said he was still working to trust, with opposing hitters hitting .289 on the pitch this season, up from .253 in 2016.

“I’ve been feeling pretty good with my two-seamer as of late, in the second-half,” Roark explained, “and having it move a little more and trusting it a little more, and that’s the biggest part.”

In advance of his start against Atlanta, in the finale of the three-game set in Nationals Park on Thursday, Roark talked to reporters about continuing to improve and prepare for the postseason over the next few weeks.

“You can’t take any starts off,” Roark said.

“You can’t take any days off, it’s good to get rest, but you’ve got to make sure your body is feeling good and ready to go come postseason time. Can’t go in there, your next three starts or your next three weeks and just coast into the playoffs.

“You’ve got to be ready to go.” He was ready at the start against the Braves.

Roark retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced, working around a two-out walk in the first to complete four scoreless and hitless on 61 pitches, striking out four.

Johan Carmago broke up Roark’s nascent no-hit bid with a two-out single in the fifth, but the Nats’ starter stranded the first runner to reach base in a 17-pitch frame that left him at 80 total after five scoreless.

Roark’s shutout bid ended in the sixth, when Ozzie Albies hit a one-out, two-run home run to left-center to make it a one-run game, 3-2 Nats, and they added two runs a half-inning later in what ended up a 5-2 win.

Tanner Roark’s Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 108 P, 64 S, 7/3 GO/FO.

“He’s getting his stuff — well, he’s right,” Dusty Baker told reporters after the Nats’ sweep-avoiding win, “... and he’s the Tanner that we know. And takes you deep into ballgames.”

“He threw a great game,” Baker added.

Roark, who improved to (13-9) with the win, said he’s taken the lessons from his rough first half and learned from them, while also using it all for motivation.

“I learned from earlier on in the year,” he said, “just keep going at it, keep grinding, keep working hard and it will turn around.

“And I’m a firm believer in that, and just the confidence level always was within myself and knowing that I’m going to give everything I’ve got regardless of what the scoreboard says or what everything else says, so go out there and try to do the best I can every single start.”

For a 2008 25th Round pick, who took the long road to the majors, he’s always had the motivation to prove the doubters wrong, and Roark said he still does today.

“I use that for fuel for the fire,” Roark said, “so people that doubt me and people that [say], ‘Oh, he started too early this year with the World Baseball Classic,’ and all that stuff, ‘He’s getting tired,’ and I just try to use that as fire and prove everybody wrong that doubts me.”