Tanner Roark went (54-44) with a 3.59 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 263 walks (2.48 BB/9), and 732 Ks (7.05 K/9) in 182 games, 141 starts, and 935 innings pitched for the Washington Nationals before he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds this past winter in a straight-up deal for reliever Tanner Rainey, who is currently up and pitching out of the Nats’ bullpen.
In his first 11 starts for the Reds, Roark had a 3.20 ERA, a 3.00 FIP, 24 walks (3.83 BB/9), and 59 Ks (9.43 K/9) in 56 1⁄3 IP before he took on his former team for the first time. He talked in advance of the series opener on Friday night about what it would be like to go up against a team he’d played for over the previous six seasons.
“It’s going to be weird,” Roark explained, “... especially pitching against them, but I’m about to go outside and hit BP so I’m sure I’ll see some guys out there and say hello and catch up.”
Asked if he would make eye contact with his former teammates when they stepped in against him, Roark said he doesn’t usually, but probably would.
“Eye contact? I’m going to,” Roark said. “I usually don’t, but with guys i know it’s going to be like backyard baseball with your friends.”
[ed. note - “A quick aside: Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle talked about the idea of making eye contact with an opposing hitter in an at bat earlier this season, and said it’s something he tries to avoid, though it does happen occasionally.
“‘I never look at the hitter,’ Doolittle said. ‘Like I might look at his feet or his hands and try to see if he might tip what he’s doing, but like I’ve made accidental eye contact with the hitter a couple times in my career, and it’s really awkward, and like you’ve got to step off, the hitter steps out, everybody’s like, ‘What just happened?’
“It’s like ‘Ghostbusters’, like you’ve crossed the streams or something and you have to like stop...”]
But getting back to Roark vs the Nationals, his teammate for three seasons, Nats’ outfielder Adam Eaton, agreed with Roark’s take on it being like playing baseball as a kid when you do take on a former member of your own team.
“It’s cool,” Eaton said. “I think it kind of brings a little backyard baseball into it. Always facing a friend or someone that you spend a lot of time with is also enjoyable. We know him really well, he knows us really well, so it’s something that we look forward to and like I said, kind of have a little bit of fun with and whoever gets the best of each other, it’s always good vibes after the game.”
“It’s kind of weird,” Davey Martinez said, after spending one season together with Roark in 2018, “... because he’s been here for a long period of time and these guys have known him forever, two, but once the game starts these guys compete, they compete at the highest level, they get it, they understand. He’s on the Cincinnati Reds, as we all know, and they’re going to go out there and try to put some good at bats together.”
One of the current Nats who wasn’t with the team during Roark’s tenure, Gerardo Parra, hit a 1-2 fastball up and in out to right in the top of the second, putting the Nationals up 3-0 on their one-time starter, and Matt Adams added another home run in the fourth, 4-1, doubling Roark’s total of home runs allowed on the season.
Roark, who got a safety squeeze down to bring in the Reds’ first run, homered for the first time in his career in the fourth, taking a first-pitch sinker from Erick Fedde to left field, 4-2, but the Nationals held on for a 5-2 win.
“It wasn’t as emotional as I thought it was going to be,” Roark told reporters after the game, as quoted by MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon.
“I was nervous before the game,” he added, “but overall I felt under control. It was definitely weird facing them. It was almost like a Spring Training game, where you see these guys in live BP, facing your friends.”
Did he make any eye contact as he ran out his home run?
“I wasn’t trying to make eye contact with anybody rounding the bases,” Roark said.
“I saw out of the corner of my eye [Anthony] Rendon, a little bit looking the other way. I don’t know if he had that smile on his face just because that’s how he is. I don’t know, it was cool. It felt good.”