On the spot: Unselfish Roark provides big lift
Earning win in first start of season, righty has earned much respect in Nats clubhouse
CHICAGO -- After winning 15 games with an earned run average of 2.85 in one season, most pitchers would throw a fit if they were unceremoniously dumped from the starting rotation the next season and relegated to a supporting role in the bullpen.
Tanner Roark, though, is not most pitchers.
In fact, after winning his first start of the season Monday as the Nationals edged the Cubs, 2-1, at Wrigley Field, the hard-throwing right-hander was a bit taken aback when it was suggested he might have reacted negatively to the move.
Roark, 28, wouldn't even concede that he took the mound with something to prove.
"No," he said. "I go out there and I try to do my job -- when it's in the bullpen or when it's starting.
"I'm not worried about strikeouts. I'm worried about getting outs, getting quick outs so we can get back in the dugout and swing the bats and get runs. That's all I worry about. That's my mentality."
It may not be a big deal to Roark, but his teammates certainly appreciate how he has handled the situation, which was brought on by the free-agent signing of Max Scherzer in the offseason to top a quality starting staff.
"You have to tip your cap to him," center fielder Denard Span said. "When we signed Max, he was the odd man out. On 29 other teams, he would be in their starting rotation. He's done whatever the team has asked of him. He's closed a game, he's set up a game, he's been in long relief, and today he came up huge for us with a big start."
Roark was limited to about 70 pitches on Monday because he hasn't been stretched out as a starter. But that was enough to get him through five innings -- with four pitches to spare. He allowed just one run on a solo home run by Cubs slugger Kris Bryant in the first inning.
"With the exception of one slider to Bryant, he threw the ball exactly where he wanted to throw it today," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He really kept his pitch count down through five. He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get guys out.
"I think he probably could have gone one more. [But] the start today is not about today. It's about potentially the next one."
With Doug Fister on the disabled list with forearm tightness, Roark will get at least one more start. That's fine with him. Whatever the team needs.
"I did it all last year, so just get back to that same mentality," he said. "Prepare the way I usually prepare and work hard before my next start and be ready to go [by] game time."
That's one thing Williams says he never has to worry about: Roark will be ready when called upon.
"It just doesn't matter to him what the role is," the manager said. "He's anxious to get the ball whenever we can give it to him. It doesn't matter if it's one inning or five innings."
The only time Roark seemed remotely comfortable talking about anything personal was when he was asked about the friends and family he had in attendance. He grew up in Wilmington, Ill., which is about an hour or so south of Chicago.
"It felt great pitching in front of a lot of friends and family," he said. "They're out here. They always come to Wrigley to watch us play and stuff like that. It's Memorial Day, and the Cubs always draw great crowds. It was fun."