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Tanner Roark calls first-career playoff start 'a dream come true'

Tanner Roark calls first-career playoff start 'a dream come true'

With the Nationals already down 1-0 in their best-of-five series against the Dodgers, they’ll be leaning on their rotation’s secret weapon to help them draw even before heading to L.A.

Indeed, for as impressive as Tanner Roark’s 2016 has been, it has seemingly flown under the radar around the baseball world. He finished the regular season 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA over 210 innings of work, and yet is rarely mentioned when discussing the NL’s top arms.

However, Game 2 of the division series will give him a chance to show the nation what the Nats have already known about him in his four-year big-league career.

“It's definitely a dream come true,” Roark said before NLDS Game 1. “To get your first start in the post-season. But you've got to go out there and be confident in everything that I do, and, you know, be aggressive and keep doing what I did all during the season. Not change anything and just be myself.”

The 29-year-old right hander doesn’t have to be modest when stacking his numbers side-by-side with the NL’s best. Roark has induced the third-most double plays in baseball, and has the most starts of any starter this season of seven or more shutout innings. He may not have the electric fastball or the wipeout slider, but sinker ball has been tough for opposing hitters to square up.

“This guy, he's a horse,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He's a warrior. We feel very comfortable with him on the mound. We know that he's going to fight you every turn and every inning of the game.”

“Oh, yeah, I definitely feel Tanner has been underrated the majority of his career,” added third baseman Anthony Rendon. “He's a bulldog. I love that guy.”

It’s been a somewhat long and winding road for Roark to wind up as one of the Nats’ three best starters. Originally a player to be named later when coming over from the Minnesota Twins in 2010, Roark made his MLB-debut in 2013 as a reliever. A season later, he joined the rotation and broke out, winning 15 games and sporting a 2.85 ERA. But after the Nats signed Max Scherzer in 2015, Roark returned to the bullpen in somewhat of a nebulous role, which came with mixed results.

But the Nats was in need of a starter with Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann departing last offseason, giving Roark a shot to prove that 2014 wasn’t a fluke.

“I asked him [in spring training] ‘Are you a starter or a reliever, which one would you rather do?’ And he told me he wanted to start,” Baker said. “So I said, ‘Okay, I'm going to give you every opportunity to start.’”

The decision paid off, and Roark doesn’t appear to be relinquishing his spot in the rotation again anytime soon. Now it’s up to him to come through for the Nats when they need him most.

“If you're not nervous, you're not human, and you don't care, I feel like,” Roark said. “So for me, being nervous is a good thing. And I'm not starting till tomorrow, so just got to go out there and do my thing. Just be confident and trust my stuff.”


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Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

SAN DIEGO -- Yangervis Solarte hit a two-run home run off Stephen Strasburg in the first inning of the right-hander's first start in almost a month and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 Saturday night.

Strasburg (10-4) retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a single to Jose Pirela and then the homer to the switch-hitting Solarte, who drove a 96-mph fastball to right for his 13th.

Strasburg then settled down against his hometown team, retiring 10 straight batters and 13 of 14. He went six innings, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out eight and walking one.

He hadn't pitched since July 23, when he went only two innings at Arizona. He went on the disabled list with an elbow nerve impingement.

Strasburg pitched at West Hills High in suburban Santee and then at San Diego State for coach Tony Gwynn before going to the Nationals with the No. 1 pick overall in the 2009 draft.

While Strasburg pitched well, the Nationals had only three hits.

San Diego's Travis Wood (2-1) also settled down after laboring through the first inning, when he threw 35 pitches but didn't allow a run. He was unscathed until the fifth, when he allowed a one-out single to Jose Lobaton and a two-out double to Adrian Sanchez. The run was unearned because of Woods' throwing error on Strasburg's sacrifice bunt that advanced Lobaton.

Wood allowed just the unearned run on three hits in seven innings, with two strikeouts and two walks.

Brad Hand pitched the ninth for his 11th save.

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Matt Grace, Howie Kendrick lead Nationals past San Diego Padres

Matt Grace, Howie Kendrick lead Nationals past San Diego Padres

SAN DIEGO -- Matt Grace pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in place of injured Max Scherzer and Howie Kendrick hit a leadoff homer and drove in two runs to help the Washington Nationals beat the San Diego Padres 7-1 on Friday night.

Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start and placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sore neck. Grace and five relievers held San Diego to four hits.

Grace, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and pitched at UCLA, made his first big league start and his first start since 2012 when he was with Single-A Potomac. It was his 61st big league appearance.

The left-hander allowed two hits, struck out one and walked one. He retired Cory Spangenberg on a grounder to open the fifth and manager Dusty Baker came out to get him after 52 pitches.

Shawn Kelley came on and with one out allowed Dusty Coleman's solo homer into the second deck in left field, his fourth.

Joe Blanton (2-2) pitched a scoreless sixth for the win.

Kendrick homered to left on the third pitch from Luis Perdomo, his sixth leadoff shot this season and seventh homer overall. Kendrick also hit an RBI single with no outs in the seventh to chase Perdomo and give the Nationals a 5-1 lead. Pinch-hitter Alejandro De Aza hit a sacrifice fly one batter earlier.

Adam Lind hit an RBI single in the sixth.

Washington's Michael A. Taylor robbed Yangervis Solarte of a home run with a perfectly timed leap to catch the ball above the 396 sign in center field leading off the second, and right fielder Andrew Stevenson made a nice running catch of Wil Myers' fly ball with a runner on third to end the fourth.

Perdomo (6-8) allowed five runs, three earned, and six hits while striking out five and walking three.