Roark keeps distance from ex-Nats teammates

Right-hander opts to hang out with Reds players at concert

May 31st, 2019

CINCINNATI -- Tanner Roark saw his former Nationals teammates from a distance on Thursday night. Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Brian Dozier, and Trea Turner were backstage for the Dierks Bentley concert at Riverbend Music Center just a few miles down the river from Great American Ball Park.

They texted Roark who was sitting in the stands with current Reds teammates Tucker Barnhart, Curt Casali, and Kyle Farmer, and asked him to join them. But Roark waved them off and denied their request.

“These are my teammates now,” Roark said on Friday, with a wry smile. “It was funny to see them there and be in the same place at the same time.”

It will be even stranger for Roark on Saturday afternoon when the Reds right-hander faces the Nationals in the second game of a three-game series.

Roark, 32, spent six seasons in D.C. going 64-54 with a 3.59 ERA in 182 appearances including 141 starts before being traded to Cincinnati in December in exchange for right-hander Tanner Rainey.

“He was here for a long period of time, and these guys have known him forever,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez. “He’s on the Cincinnati Reds now. These guys compete at the highest level. They’re going to go out there and try to put some good at-bats together against him. Tanner’s an unbelievable competitor. He’s going to bring his best stuff tomorrow, for sure.”

Roark might have a book on the Nationals batters, but they have a book on him, too. So, who will win that war of wits?

“I don’t know yet,” Roark said. “We’ll find out. Stay tuned. You just have to channel it. It’s going to be a battle. There’s probably going to be some emotion, but that’s part of the game.”

Roark won’t be lacking for motivation on Saturday.

He finished last season strong despite having a National League-high 15 losses. In 11 starts after the All-Star break, Roark went 6-3 with a 3.43 ERA. That momentum carried over into this season. Under the tutelage of Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson who came over from Milwaukee last winter, Roark is 4-3 with a 3.20 ERA.

“Derek’s been amazing since Day 1,” Roark said. “We had a conversation before we even met, on the phone for about 45 minutes just talking baseball and his philosophies and mine. He’s helped me out tremendously, to see things differently and keep things simple.”

Roark hasn’t allowed a home run since April 24, a span of 35 1/3 innings, the second longest such streak of his career and fifth longest in baseball. The Nationals will be looking to change that on Saturday.

When asked if he’ll make eye contact when his closest friends on the Nationals step to the plate, Roark smiled again.

“I’m going to,” he said. “I usually don’t. But with guys I know, it’s going to be like backyard baseball with your friends.”