WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - It didn’t take Tanner Roark long to figure out that he didn’t have his best stuff in Sunday’s start against the Cardinals.
Three batters into the game, the Cards had a 2-0 lead after José Martínez ripped a two-run homer to left field, ending Roark’s string of Grapefruit League innings without allowing an earned run at 8 1/3 over four starts.
“Sometimes you have those days where you don’t know how it’s going to go,” Roark said after the Nationals lost 4-3 to the Cardinals. “Today was one of those days. ... You’re not going to be locked in every start, so you go out there, do your job and compete.”
On an unusually hot and muggy day after several days of cooler temperatures in south Florida, it was Roark who was cooled off. He was unable to get a feel for his curveball, fed the Cardinals a steady diet of changeups and made it through four innings with his team still within striking distance.
“He didn’t have his best stuff,” manager Davey Martinez said, “but he battled.”
Some days in spring training, you battle the opposition. Some days, you battle the weather. Some days, you battle yourself. And some days, you just battle because it’s all you can do.
Roark allowed three runs on five hits over four innings, walking two and striking out a pair. He threw 64 pitches, 38 for strikes.
“I just didn’t feel all locked in like I have been” Roark said. “But you’re not going to have your greatest stuff every time, right? So just got to try to trick ‘em and act like you have it all. Just go out there, show no emotion and do your best to execute your pitches.”
Roark’s fastball didn’t have its usual zip and he struggled at times with his breaking stuff. But the subpar outing gave him a clear indication of what he’ll be working on in his next bullpen session and his subsequent spring starts.
“I threw a lot of changeups, but the curveball, they always say, is the last one to come,” he explained. “I usually have a good feel for it. My next bullpen, I’ll work on that quite a bit. I’ve been working on my slider quite a bit and that’s feeling pretty good, too. Just going out there and trusting it and getting it down.”
As he has all spring, Roark continued to work out of a modified stretch, ditching the full windup for a simpler motion designed for easier repetition.
He’s still getting used to the new motion, and an afternoon of using it when he wasn’t getting good results showed him he’s still got to refine the delivery.
“There’s still things you’ve got to tweak and you’ve got to feel,” he said. “The main thing is working on it when you’re playing catch every day, when you’re not in the game, because once you’re in the game, you’ve got to do your thing. You got to try to make it muscle memory.”
The Nationals tied the game at 3-3 in the seventh on Chris Dominguez’s second homer of the spring, but momentum quickly shifted back to the Cardinals, who got a solo homer by Paul DeJong off Shawn Kelley in the eighth for the margin of victory.
Note: Righty A.J. Cole, who was scheduled to start against the Tigers on Monday in Lakeland, has been scratched from the assignment after being sent home on Sunday with a stomach bug.
The bug is making the rounds of the Nationals clubhouse. Infielder Adrian Sanchez was sent home Saturday but returned today and played.
Martinez said he’s trying to prevent the issue from spreading too far.
Right-hander Edwin Jackson will start in Cole’s place against the Tigers.