JUPITER, Fla. — Including the postseason, Tanner Roark threw 214 1/3 innings for the Nationals in a sterling 2016 campaign, 14 more than he had logged in any of his eight previous professional seasons. Some pitchers would, as a result, lighten the workload on their arms in preparation for the following season. Roark is not taking that approach.
While peers have steered clear of wasting bullets in the World Baseball Classic, Roark agreed to participate without hesitation and will leave the Nationals to join Team USA Sunday. The right-hander said he is scheduled to make his only start for the Americans on March 11 against the Dominican Republic at Marlins Park.
“I think it was an easy decision,” Roark said. “I just knew I had to work harder in the offseason and start to throw earlier, and get this arm back into good shape and knock the kinks off.”
Coincidentally, Roark had decided to resume throwing in late November, a month earlier than in previous offseasons, to keep himself loose. The prompt start to his winter program has put him ahead of the Nationals’ other starters and made the preparation for a high-intensity outing in mid-March easier.
“You always get tendinitis here and there and I’m not getting any younger,” the 30-year-old Roark said. “So I wanted to not have tendinitis or feel like I’m coming in just trying to get my work in and spend all my time in the training table. Just try to throw a tennis ball off the wall and keep everything loose and ready to go.”
Roark began his spring by throwing two innings in an intrasquad game last Thursday. On Monday, he held the Cardinals scoreless over three innings in his first Grapefruit League start. He was his usual efficient self, needing just 37 pitches against a Cardinals lineup filled with regulars. St. Louis mustered just two singles off him, one of which was wiped out by a double play to end the third, and he didn’t issue a walk. His fastball sat between 89 and 91 mph, occasionally touching 92 or 93.
“I felt it when we had the intrasquad, it’s a whole different animal when you don’t have an L-screen in there,” Roark said. “I hate the L-screen first of all. It’s not a gamelike scenario. So I like to be out there and it’s a different kind of animal and you just go out there and you have to compete. Always, no matter if it’s against your own guys.”
Roark said he has one outing remaining with the Nationals before leaving for the tournament, which the United States has yet to win. He’ll return to West Palm Beach after facing the Dominicans in group play, while Daniel Murphy will remain with the team.
“You get to represent your country and that’s one hell of a thing to represent where you’re from and everybody else is doing the same around the world,” Roark said. “So it’s a cool thing to go head to head against other countries and try to come out on top.”