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As advertised: Roark steady as ever in DC

Guerrero ends homer dry spell; bullpen unflappable yet again
@KeeganMatheson
July 28, 2020

The Blue Jays’ rotation features bigger names and bigger arms than Tanner Roark, but his debut on Tuesday showed just how valuable the veteran can be as the steady hand of the group. Roark pitched six seasons for the Nationals and knows their mound like the back of his hand,

The Blue Jays’ rotation features bigger names and bigger arms than Tanner Roark, but his debut on Tuesday showed just how valuable the veteran can be as the steady hand of the group.

Roark pitched six seasons for the Nationals and knows their mound like the back of his hand, he said earlier this week, and it showed in the Blue Jays’ 5-1 win over Washington on Tuesday night at Nationals Park. The right-hander turned in five innings of one-run ball, and Toronto needed it, given its recent run of injuries and a back end of its bullpen that’s already been leaned on heavily.

Box score

“I’ve always wanted to be the guy who’s going to be very durable,” Roark said. “I’m going to go out there every five days and make my start. I’m going to give you everything I’ve got. That, as a whole, is what is 'me.’”

Roark’s efforts were more than enough with a bullpen that allowed zero runs over the final four frames alongside Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s comical first homer of 2020, as well as one from Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

When the Blue Jays signed Roark to a two-year deal in December, the appeal was obvious. But it was reasonable to question how his past home run numbers would fit in the American League East. Nationals Park isn’t exactly the type of launching pad you’ll find around the East divisions, but the 33-year-old did well to limit hard contact across the board on Tuesday and keep well-hit balls out of the air.

The 13 balls in play allowed by Roark averaged an exit velocity of just 85.5 mph, lower than his average in any of the past five seasons, and well below 2019 (89.0 mph). Putting up five strikeouts with zero walks doesn’t hurt, either.

“I feel like we have a chance to win every day, and I felt like we had a chance with Tanner taking the mound today. He was really good,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “He’s an inning eater, so he did the same thing today. He was really good.”

Even though Roark tends to hover right around 90 mph with his four-seam fastball, it might have been his best pitch up in the zone on Tuesday. The righty got five swinging strikes with the pitch and used it aggressively later in counts, creating some deception with his delivery to make up for the velocity.

Vladdy has liftoff at last
Guerrero’s solo shot in the second inning was his first home run in 137 plate appearances, stretching back to Aug. 22 of last season. He was followed by Gurriel with another solo shot in the fourth, which gave the Blue Jays six runs on six solo home runs to kick off the series in D.C. Guerrero has been making some swing adjustments and looked uncomfortable Monday, but Montoyo thinks him watching Teoscar Hernández hit a pair in the opener might have lit a fire.

“He was the happiest guy when he hit that home run,” Montoyo said, “because now they were talking on the bench like, ‘OK, I’m going to hit two today like you did yesterday.’”

New night, new bullpen look
On Monday, it was Ryan Borucki. On Tuesday, it was Jacob Waguespack. Each young starter came out of the bullpen in Washington throwing harder than what's become expected, with Waguespack touching 93.8 mph over two scoreless frames. Waguespack’s role will be whatever the game calls for, but if he pitches like he did Tuesday over multiple innings, he’ll make a strong case to keep his spot as rosters shrink in the coming weeks.

With Giles getting 2nd opinion, who'll close?

Wilmer Font followed with his 2020 debut, and he pitched a clean inning, striking out two. He could sneak into some high-leverage innings soon. Without a save situation, A.J. Cole took the ninth and closed things out. Roles are still a bit unsettled with the recent loss of Ken Giles, but Tuesday showed that there are capable arms if they’re put together correctly.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.