JUPITER, Fla. - In his spring debut for 2018, Tanner Roark flashed some of what made him one of the majors’ most effective starters in 2014 and 2016 but left him a frustrated pitcher in 2017: Well-located two-seam fastballs.
Roark used that bread-and-butter pitch this afternoon to strike out the side in the bottom of the second against the Marlins, capping an efficient performance in his first outing of the spring.
Roark needed an inning to get his feet wet, allowing a single to J.T. Realmuto and two fly balls to center field in the bottom of the first. When he returned to the mound for the bottom of the second, he was in peak form. Roark struck out Eric Campbell, Tomas Telis and Monte Harrison in succession, all of them looking at two-seamers.
The right-hander, who was working with a simplified windup than he used in the past, departed having thrown 18-of-33 pitches for strikes over two scoreless innings.
It was a strong debut for Roark, whose teammates supplied him with an early lead. Wilmer Difo led off the game drawing a walk off Jacob Turner, the former Nationals right-hander now trying to make Miami’s club as a non-roster invite. Victor Robles then blooped a single to right field, moving Difo to third ... and then across the plate after Harrison’s throw from right field appeared to deflect off first base coach Tim Bogar’s foot.
That hit left Robles 2-for-2 with a walk so far this spring, though the top prospect popped out to first base in his next at-bat this afternoon. The Nationals couldn’t scratch across anything more against Turner, who departed after two innings allowing the one unearned run.
Edwin Jackson, who replaced Roark on the mound for the bottom of the third, got through his first inning unscathed but then labored in the bottom of the fourth. Realmuto, the subject of ongoing trade rumors, led off the inning with a solo homer to left. Scott Van Slyke then doubled to left.
Jackson wound up allowing three hits and a walk in his two innings of relief.
The Nationals took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth when Moises Sierra scored all the way from second base on a diving catch by center fielder Magneuris Sierra (no relation).
Update: The Nats now trail 3-2 after seven innings, with a couple of relievers unable to hold the lead. Prospect Jefry Rodriguez surrendered the tying run in the sixth on two singles and a fielder’s choice. Lefty Bryan Harper then gave up the go-ahead run in the seventh on a walk, a doube and an RBI single. Harper, making his first-ever spring training appearance and his first appearance in any competitive game since he had Tommy John surgery in late 2016, bounced back to get two ground balls and escape the jam, including a 6-4-3 double play. Given what he’s been through, Bryce’s older brother has to be pleased simply to be pitching in this game in the first place.
Update II: The Nationals fall 3-2 for the second straight game to open Grapefruit League play.