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Roark using the end of '17 as motivation

After enduring rough stretches, veteran says he's mentally stronger
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- Tanner Roark recalled sitting in his hotel room in Chicago during the hours leading up to Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Originally, he was scheduled to start that game for the Nationals as they hoped to stave off elimination from the Cubs at Wrigley Field. But a rainout kicked off a whirlwind 24 hours that resulted in Stephen Strasburg overcoming an illness to take the mound and toss a gem.

In the hours leading up to the game, however, before Strasburg became the eventual starter, many questioned why the Nationals would even turn to Roark. Those questions began to motivate him.

WASHINGTON -- Tanner Roark recalled sitting in his hotel room in Chicago during the hours leading up to Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Originally, he was scheduled to start that game for the Nationals as they hoped to stave off elimination from the Cubs at Wrigley Field. But a rainout kicked off a whirlwind 24 hours that resulted in Stephen Strasburg overcoming an illness to take the mound and toss a gem.

In the hours leading up to the game, however, before Strasburg became the eventual starter, many questioned why the Nationals would even turn to Roark. Those questions began to motivate him.

"People were on TV talking like I wasn't good enough," Roark said. "It was [ticking] me off. I was going to use that as motivation. Then, I got to the field and it just didn't work out that way."

Strasburg arrived to the field feeling better, ready to start and delivered one of the best playoff pitching performances in team history to guide the Nationals to victory. Washington elected to start Gio Gonzalez in the decisive Game 5, which the Nationals lost to the Cubs, falling in the NLDS without Roark throwing a pitch.

Video: USA@JPN: Roark shuts down Japan over four scoreless

While Roark, 31, emphasized he had no issue with the decision to go to Strasburg, he acknowledged he was disappointed to not appear in the series at all. It ended what was an up-and-down 2017 season for Roark, which began at the World Baseball Classic in March and endured some rough patches through the season.

After winning the gold medal with Team USA during the Classic, Roark got off to a slow start on the mound in the first half. He eventually found his groove and his numbers in 2017 were solid -- 4.67 ERA in 30 starts -- but he struggled with consistency and often did not meet the standards he set the year prior. After enduring a season that fell short of those expectations he looked at the positives and ways he has grown as a pitcher.

"Although it wasn't the way I wanted to finish the year not pitching at all, but with the group of guys we have, the pitching staff we have, I'd put them out there any time," Roark said. "I'd say I got mentally stronger and probably [don't] worry about many things anymore. Just be out there on the mound and more relaxed."

Video: PHI@WSH: Roark fans six over six strong frames

That gives the Nationals confidence in Roark's ability to bounce back in 2018. He has certainly done so before. After he posted a 2.85 ERA as a starter in 2014, he had to shift to the bullpen in 2015 and struggled. After converting to a starter again in 2016, he flourished. With a normal offseason routine this winter, and some extra motivation under his belt, the Nats believe Roark is due for a huge bounce back this season.

"Tanner is the most underappreciated player we've got," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He's an ultimate team player. This guy never says a negative word. He's all about the team. And he's the type of guy I love having on the mound. You know he's going to leave everything out there, and he's been very successful in his career. We hope that continues. We control him for a long time, and we're looking forward to him having a big season."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Tanner Roark