Tanner Roark did. not. want. to. talk. to. reporters. after he struggled against Miami’s Marlins last week in Washington, D.C.
His answers were curt, and confrontational, and the normally affable right-hander seemed to want to be anywhere but in front of the microphones, recorders and cameras. He didn’t stay in front of them for long either.
What wasn’t there for him against the Fish? “I don’t know,” Roark said, “I felt great.”
“He goes through a stretch where he gets the ball down, he looks really good,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez explained in his own post game press conference, before Roark spoke with reporters, “... then he elevates again, and he gets hit. So we’ve got to get him to believe that he can throw the ball down.”
Was that the issue, just elevating at bad times? What did Roark identify as the problem or problems?
“Good question,” Roark responded. “Next.”
Martinez noted that when the starter did elevate, his pitches ended up being thigh high, and got hit hard.
“Yes, usually thigh-high pitches get smoked,” Roark said, in a response to a question which mentioned Martinez’s comments, not directly in response to his manager.
Over the previous few weeks, Roark had shaved his long beard into a 70s-style mustache and serious sideburns, then he shaved his face and head completely as he continued to struggle.
“What are you going to cut off next?” a reporter asked.
“Nothing,” Roark said. It was as uncomfortable as it reads now. All around.
Martinez said they’d have to sit down and sort things out.
“We’re going to talk to him, [pitching coach Derek Lilliquist] and I, and work on some things his next bullpen and flat ground and see if we can get him down [in the zone] consistently.”
Martinez talked before Roark’s start against the New York Mets on Friday night’s start in Citi Field about that conversation and what he expected to see from Roark.
“I think he’s going to be good today, I really do,” Martinez said.
“We talked about location, throwing strikes, strike one, so I’m expecting him to be the old Tanner Roark and go out there and give us a good game and keep us in the ballgame.”
“I’m excited to watch him pitch today,” Nats’ catcher Spencer Kieboom added, though it was Matt Wieters who got the nod for tonight’s game behind the plate.
Kieboom said he understood Roark’s frustration as he tried to sort things out.
“Anybody would be frustrated. To not be frustrated you kind of go, ‘What’s wrong with that guy?’ He wants to win as much as anybody in this locker room. It’s not a matter of will. I’m excited to watch him today. I know how much hard work he puts into everything, and how much effort he puts into everything. We work out together in the offseason. He’s an animal when it comes to everything he does, and when you don’t get the results that you’re looking for it’s frustrating.”
“I’ve been watching him every time he goes out there,” Wieters said, noting that he was still following the Nationals’ starters closely as he worked his way back from a hamstring injury and subsequent surgery which had him on the DL for close to two months.
“I even went out and watched one of his bullpens last time just to kind of get a feel for what he felt and he looked good in the bullpen so I’m excited to see him carry that into the game today.
“The good thing with Tanner is he has the mentality that’s built to be able to handle things when they aren’t going quite like he wants them to.
“He’s going to work until he gets back in the right state.”
How did Roark respond tonight against the Mets? Not too well early.
Roark gave up four singles and three runs in a 19-pitch first, and a leadoff triple by Amed Rosario in the second, on a belt-high 1-0 fastball outside which was followed by an RBI single by the opposing pitcher, Noah Syndergaarrd, which put NY up, 4-0, after two.
It was 4-1 after five innings from Roark, who was hit for with two on and one out in the top of the sixth. He kept the Mets in check after the second and put together a start that both his catcher and manager said was a step in the right direction.
Tanner Roark’s Line: 5.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 87 P 58 S, 6/3 GO/FO.
“Regardless of the first of the two innings, he pitched well,” Martinez said. “really well, and that’s progress and that’s good for us, so if he continues to that we’re going to be in good shape.”
“I really believe that he just slowed down a little bit and he started pitching,” the skipper explained when asked what changed when Roark settled in.
“He looked great, and I just said right now, I said, ‘Hey, great job, you did well.’”
“I thought he threw the ball well all night,” Wieters said. “That first inning was not really too many hard-hit balls, just some balls that were over our gloves. Really the second inning I thought maybe the first two pitches that inning were a little bit of a mistake, too much plate or not quite enough sink on them but other than that I thought he threw the ball great.
“I thought he kept us in the game and those first hits for him it’s more Tanner, he’s going to be attacking the zone, he threw a lot of strikes and we just couldn’t score enough runs for him.”
Wieters said as the game went along, Roark was able to work down in the zone and look more like himself on the mound than he has in a while.
“I think he felt more comfortable today out there,” Wieters explained.
“He felt like he didn’t have to try and do too much. He was a little more back in his element than I feel like he’s been his last few starts and just knowing that even after the three runs in the first, if he keeps us in the game he’d have a chance, and like I said, we just weren’t able to come up with the big hit.”
Roark, once again, said he felt good.
“Felt good. Felt behind the ball which is how I pitch effectively,” he said.
“If the arm is just lagging behind just a hair, then everything is up, so I settled down throughout the second, third, fourth, fifth inning and felt better.”
So was he satisfied that, at least after the first, he got results that matched how he felt?
“Like I said, this game is so mental that you could eat yourself alive with little stuff, and the more you just stay confident and trust your stuff and trust your catcher and trust the other guys in the field to make plays then you have nothing to worry about, just execution and conviction on your pitches.”