“If he’s needed [in Game 3], to play an extra-inning game, then you have to make an adjustment from there,” Baker said Sunday. “… But [Game 4] is our plan because he’s going to throw a bullpen today.”
The right-hander is a native of Wilmington, Ill., a little over an hour from Chicago, which means blocks of his family and friends have packed the Wrigley Field stands for his four career starts here. Roark has a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings at Wrigley Field.
Roark has made one postseason start — Game 2 of last year’s NLDS. He threw 4 1/3 innings against the Dodgers and allowed two runs on seven hits. He finished an up-and-down regular season with a 4.67 ERA but looked better in the second half, showing more of the two-seam fastball that helped him emerge as a top-tier starter in 2016. Baker and several of his teammates speculated his long stint with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic set Roark back, interrupting his spring training and increasing the time he needed to settle into this season.
Whatever the cause, the trouble has been inconsistency — not just from start to start, but also from inning to inning. His first-inning ERA is 5.90, and slow starts have often driven his pitch count past the point of no return. He has nibbled more than he did last year, as if reluctant to trust his ability to get weak contact like he did last season. But Roark is known for his attack mentality, for a stubborn belief in his own abilities that carried him from down and out in independent ball to the big leagues. The moment seems unlikely to consume him, though Roark’s stuff loses effectiveness when he overthrows. Harnessing adrenaline will be a key.
If Roark pitches Game 4 on Tuesday, Strasburg will almost certainly pitch Game 5 on Thursday, if the series gets that far. Strasburg was a tough-luck loser after striking out 10 in six masterful innings Friday. The Nationals hope he will get at least one more start to avenge the first one — and a few more after that, too.