Tanner Roark tinkered with some changes to his delivery in Spring Training, but abandoned them in favor of back-to-basics approach in his first start.
The results were positive.
In seven innings on the mound in Atlanta in his 2018 debut, the 31-year-old righty held the Braves’ hitters to one run on four hits, walking one, and striking out six in a 93-pitch effort that earned him his first win of the season.
Roark said he turned to rotation mates Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer for advice on his delivery and applied what they suggested in a simulated game before the outing.
“Strasburg was talking to me about it, Max was talking to me about it,” he explained.
“Just getting back to feeling the way I usually feel. Feeling good and feeling my windup just making sure everything’s smooth and slow and then go, instead of my head moving too much and the previous [delivery] was trying to make it simpler but I think they helped me out with making it a lot simpler.”
“As for the game,” Roark continued, “I felt great, everything was working, [Pedro Severino] did a heck of a job behind the plate, calling good pitches, and the team put some runs on the board early and never looked back.”
For start No. 2, Roark was facing a New York Mets team against whom he was (7-2) with a 2.76 ERA in 17 games (11 starts) in his career, with a 2.54 ERA in 67 1⁄3 IP as a starter.
Roark started his second outing of the season with two scoreless on 27 pitches, striking out three batters and stranding three, but walked three straight with two out in the third to load the bases and push him up to 65 pitches overall. Pitch No. 66 on the night went out to right for a grand slam by Adrian Gonzalez, whose first home run as a Met gave the visitor’s a 4-2 lead.
Pedro Severino drove in a run in the bottom of the fourth to make it a 4-3 game, but Mets’ second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera hit a two-out, 2-2 fastball out to right in the fifth to put New York up 5-3. Roark was up to 100 pitches total after five innings after a 14-pitch frame.
Tanner Roark’s Line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 9 Ks, 2 HRs, 100 P, 61 S, 2/2 GO/FO.
The Nationals ended up dropping a 6-5 decision, their third straight loss to the Mets, (who swept the weekend series), and their fifth straight loss overall, leaving them 4-5 early in the 2018 campaign.
“It’s early, so we’re not worried,” Roark told reporters, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier when asked about the sweep and the losses piling up. “We know the type of group we have here. It’s a little frustrating, just getting swept. But it’s early, and we’ll come back tomorrow.”
Roark, according to what he told MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, thought close calls that went against him in the third inning led to the consecutive walks that set the Mets up with that big opportunity. “They were close,” Roark said.
“Going back and looking at them, I know they were in just a little bit on [Asdrubal] Cabrera and [Jay] Bruce. Just an inch more to the right and they were strikes. You’re going to have those, not worried about it. I was hitting my spot.”
The pitch to Gonzalez that went out to right for the grand slam? Roark said he knew that the left-handed hitting slugger would come up swinging and he missed his spot.
“Just a poor execution of a pitch,” Roark said. “And I knew he was going to be hacking right there. It just caught too much of the plate.”
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked about Roark’s two-out struggles after the loss.
“I think he just started cutting corners a little bit,” he said, “and when that happens, when you get to two outs, the last thing you want to do is walk somebody, and uncharacteristic with Tanner he walked three guys, you know, so he put himself in a little jam, but he settled down, and other than that inning he pitched well.”