Doesn’t matter if you start Tanner Roark after 10 days off, four days, five days or spot duty. He always seems to deliver. On Thursday, Gio Gonzalez could not get back to D.C. because of a flight cancellation. Manager Matt Williams moved Roark up to Saturday and he quickly adapted.
The Nationals scored five runs in the first inning Saturday and Roark went seven innings in an 8-3 dispatch of the Brewers.
Roark said he is getting great movement on his slider because he has adjusted the way he holds it. He used an 84 mph slider in the second inning to strike out Aramis Ramirez.
“Just was sharp lately, so just throwing it hard,” Roark said. “Actually changed my grip on it, so that helped out a lot. Went to the Jordan Zimmermann slider. So it’s gone up velocity-wise and has been much sharper. I was able to throw it a lot harder.”
Roark said he has been working with the new slider grip and it has paid dividends the last month of starts.
“Just felt good. It’s right near the same grip as my curveball, but it’s just a little farther away,” Roark explained. “Feels perfect. Feels good. Lately I’ve been doing it, I think the last four or five starts. Feeling good.
“Jordan said, ‘You can’t baby it in there.’ Otherwise, it’ll be a backup slider and just get crushed. Just got to throw it.”
Roark has been able to get his fastball to consistently hit 93 mph. Last season, he was hitting 91-92 mph. In the fourth inning, he was able to get Ryan Braun and Khris Davis looking with the 93 mph fastball.
“Of course, the All-Star break helps,” Roark said. “Just All-Star break, rest, taking my time out there.”
Roark said seeing the offense put five on the board really helped him relax and just pitch.
“Felt good. It was a lot of weight off my shoulders whenever we get five in the first, so, throw the ball,” Roark said. “Just go out there and pitch my game. Don’t really want to change anything, can’t let up on anything. So just go out there and pitch like I know I can.”
The victory was Roark’s ninth of the season after he had seven all of last season.
“I did not know that. That’s pretty cool,” he said.
Pretty cool, indeed.
In his first meeting with the Brewers, Roark’s pitching pushed the Nationals back into a first place tie with the Braves in the National League East. Roark has gone at least six innings in 18 of his 24 career starts.
The Nationals rotation makes life difficult for opponents if all the starters can go seven innings. It is a rarity in baseball. With the bullpen being able to rest, it will be fresher as August approaches. That could be an important factor when the grind of 162 games approaches.