Roark goes four scoreless as USA advances to WBC final

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - If anyone was worried about how things would go for Tanner Roark in last night's World Baseball Classic semifinal - whether those who feared the right-hander was an underwhelming choice to start for Team USA or those who feared something might happen to negatively impact his preparation for the Nationals season - rest assured all went about as swimmingly as could have been hoped.

Roark tossed four scoreless innings, needing only 48 pitches to carve his way through Japan's potent lineup and put Team USA in position to emerge victorious in Los Angeles.

Which the Americans did, taking the lead for good on Adam Jones' RBI groundout in the top of the eighth and then hanging on for a 2-1 win that puts them in tonight's championship game at Dodger Stadium against Puerto Rico.

Roark didn't figure into the final decision. Though he departed with the U.S. leading 1-0, reliever Nate Jones gave up the tying run on a solo homer in the sixth. But Roark more than held up his part of the bargain, delivering a big-time performance on a big stage.

roark-team-usa.png"He was the guy that I wanted all along for this thing," USA manager Jim Leyland told reporters afterward. "I've seen him from afar quite a bit, and he was a guy that stuck with us, and I respect him. I felt great about it. I told everybody last night, I felt great about my starting pitcher tonight. For once in my life, I was proved to be right."

Despite having pitched only 1 1/3 innings in the last two weeks, Roark showed few (if any) signs of rust. He threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the 15 batters he faced, induced plenty of weak grounders and was efficient throughout the outing.

That was particularly important for the right-hander. Because of his lack of recent work, Roark was on a tighter pitch count than other starters in the WBC, who by rule were allowed to throw as many as 95 pitches in the semifinal round.

In throwing only 48 pitches through four innings, though, Roark both gave Leyland what he needed and gave the Nationals no reason to worry about his health.

"Unfortunately, I had ... 50 was my max because I haven't thrown in nine days," Roark told reporters. "I haven't faced live hitters for nine days or so, so that brought the pitch count down a little bit. I felt good enough to stay out there."

Roark, who threw 57 pitches in his last Grapefruit League start on March 5, will return to West Palm Beach later this week and should slide into the Nationals rotation Sunday, at which point he can begin to build his workload back up again.

Roark would then make one more exhibition start against the Red Sox - either March 30 in Fort Myers or March 31 at Nationals Park - before making his regular season debut April 5 against the Marlins (following projected opening day starter Stephen Strasburg in the rotation).

Nationals teammate Daniel Murphy watched the entire game from the Americans' bench, once again not a part of Leyland's lineup and not used in a reserve role. Murphy has played in only two of Team USA's seven WBC games, only one of the last six.

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