WASHINGTON -- Because the Nationals delayed revealing the identity of their starting pitcher for Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Sunday (1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on FS1), speculation bubbled to the surface this week. Perhaps the Nats would turn to Gio Gonzalez, giving him the benefit
WASHINGTON -- Because the Nationals delayed revealing the identity of their starting pitcher for Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Sunday (1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on FS1), speculation bubbled to the surface this week. Perhaps the Nats would turn to Gio Gonzalez, giving him the benefit of pitching at home. Perhaps they were considering longer-term rotation plans, looking ahead to using Max Scherzer in Game 4 on short rest.
Turns out it wasn't nearly that complicated.
"We weren't debating that much," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said, laughing. "We went with our two best."
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With Stephen Strasburg still recovering from a pronator tendon injury, that means Tanner Roark will take the ball against the Dodgers at Nationals Park, with his team down 1-0 in the series. Washington's ERA leader during the regular season, Roark finished 16-10 with a 2.83 mark, ranking fourth in the NL with 210 innings.
That's the statistic that stands out about Roark, who doesn't throw particularly hard (his fastball averages 92 mph), doesn't feature a dynamic off-speed pitch (he's a sinkerballer, first and foremost) and doesn't have a loud personality. Roark is simply sturdy and consistent, posting an ERA no higher than 3.56 in any single month this season. He is a strong defender and a decent hitter -- exactly the type of steadying presence the Nationals needed from Roark this season, with Strasburg and Joe Ross missing significant time to injury.
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"I'm right there to do my best and help out as much as I can," is how Roark describes himself. "Blinders on and every fifth day, go out there and do my thing."
Roark does not boast much experience against the Dodgers. He has started against them just once in his career, giving up three runs over 7 1/3 innings in a June 21 loss. Chase Utley is 1-for-13 off Roark. Howie Kendrick is 1-for-7. Most other Dodgers regulars haven't seen much of him.
"They have faced me before and I've faced them before, and I've faced them in previous years," Roark said. "I remember a lot of the things, the pitches I've thrown and stuff like that to the particular hitters and stuff. So I'll go back and definitely watch a little video and read the scouting report, because obviously we've come a long way since June. They have made adjustments, and I've made adjustments myself. You've just got to go out there and pitch with your full confidence and not be afraid to make a mistake."
Roark still thinks about the mistake he made the last time he was in the postseason, giving up Brandon Belt's 18th-inning homer after the Nationals pressed him into emergency relief. But he cannot harp on it. Roark's wife threw him a surprise 30th birthday party last weekend, something to take the edge off his nerves. Now it's back to business for Roark.
"Game 2 … is going to be even higher expectations for myself, just to go out there and do the stuff that I know I can do," Roark said. "Pitch with confidence and go as long as I can in the game, and literally leave everything out there on the field."
Anthony DiComo has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.