CINCINNATI - On Wednesday, former Braves starter Aníbal Sánchez pitched for his new team, the Nationals, in a 14-4 win in Atlanta. Sánchez tossed 5 1/3 perfect innings to earn his first victory of the season.
On Saturday afternoon here, the tables will be turned, as former Nationals starter Tanner Roark gets the chance to pitch against Washington for the first time since he was traded in the offseason. Roark went to the Reds in exchange for reliever Tanner Rainey Dec. 12.
“It’s going to be weird, especially the first time,” Roark said Friday. “I’m about to go outside and hit BP, so I’m sure I’ll see some guys, say hello and catch up.”
But Roark has already seen a couple of his teammates from last season because a few stars from both clubs attended a concert in Cincinnati during Thursday’s off-day.
“So we went to the Dierks Bentley concert last night and there was (Anthony) Rendon, (Stephen) Strasburg, (Brian) Dozier and (Trea) Turner there, and I saw them backstage and we were in the crowd. It was funny just to see them there and be in the same place at the same time. It’s going to be strange.
Roark joked that at one point his former Nationals teammates waved him up to join them backstage.
“They were texting me, and the lights came on and I could see them. They were telling me to come back and I was like, ‘No, these are my teammates now. Screw ‘em!,’” Roark said, smiling.
Nationals manager Davey Martinez understands that facing a former long-time teammate can be an emotional moment, but stressed that a hitter has to focus first on the task at hand: finding a way to make good contact and get a base hit, regardless of how well you know the pitcher.
“One, it’s kind of weird because he’s been here a long time and these guys have known him forever,” Martinez said. “Two, once the game starts, these guys compete. They compete at the highest level. They get it.
“They understand that he’s on the Cincinnati Reds, as we all know, and they’re going to go out there and try to put some good at-bats together. But Tanner is an unbelievable competitor, so he’s going to bring his best stuff tomorrow, for sure.”
So will Roark stare down the Nationals hitters when they come to the plate?
“(E)ye contact ... I’m going to. I usually don’t, but with guys I know it’s going to be like backyard baseball with your friends,” Roark insisted.
Roark has done well for the Reds, going 4-3 with a 3.20 ERA in eleven starts. Roark won 64 games for the Nats from 2013-2018, which ranks fifth on the all-time Nationals win list.
Roark had a logical answer to the question of which team has the advantage when a pitcher is traded to a new club.
“Whoever makes better pitches, or hits the ball with the pitch I throw worse,” Roark said. “So, it’s going to be a battle, and there’s probably going to be some emotion, but it’s part of the game.”
Recently, Roark has been in a big-time groove on the mound, going 3-2 with a 2.28 ERA in May. But he cautioned that he can’t let his emotions get the best of him because he’s facing his old buddies for the first time since they were teammates last September.
“It’s got to be another game. Got to take it one game at a time,” Roark said. “So, it’s just another series, and one game at a time is how we look at it, how I look at it. So just go out and do my job.”
It is easy to predict a day before the game, but Roark still does not know what he will feel when he takes on Turner in the top of the first Saturday.
“I don’t know yet. We’ll find out,” Roark said. “Stay tuned. ... you just got to channel it and know what you are, who you are. Channel it that way.”
Roark struggled to a 3-12 start to 2018 with the Nats. But on July 25 against the Brewers, with a large hat tip to Brandon Kintzler, Roark made some adjustments to his mechanics and went on a roll. He won six of his final nine decisions.
Roark said that he has been able to continue that good feeling into 2019. Roark credited Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson for some sage advice on keeping his mechanics and his thought process as basic and as fundamental as possible while on the mound.
“Yeah, Derek’s been amazing since day one,” Roark said. “We had a lengthy conversation before we even met on the phone. It was 45 minutes just talking baseball, his philosophies and mine, so I mean he’s helped me out tremendously and he’s helped out this pitching staff tremendously. Just little things and making guys think differently and see things differently.
“Envision what you want that pitch to do. Just things ... I’ve played baseball since I was three years old and I’ve never just made it simple. Keep it simple, and it’s helped out tremendously.”
* Martinez said the key for tonight’s starter, Patrick Corbin, is to continue the game strategy that has worked well for him in most of his 11 starts all season.
“It’s been his consistency all year,” Martinez said. “He gives us an opportunity to go out there and win ball games. That’s all you can ask out of a starter. He’s been fantastic.”
* The hottest Nats hitter has been second baseman Howie Kendrick, who is back in the lineup tonight at second base. Kendrick has hit .378 with five doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs in his last 14 games.
“He’s swinging the bat really well,” Martinez said. “We talked about this all year with him. It’s just a matter of keeping him healthy, and with the day off yesterday, I thought it’d be a good day to put him in there again today and we’ll see how it goes. But he’s swinging the bat and playing really, really well, and we want to keep him that way for the whole year. We always talk about I would love to play him every day, but it’s just the fact of keeping healthy the whole year.”
Kendrick has been red hot over his last four games, hitting .643, 9-for14. So how locked in is Howie right now?
“I’ve known Howie for a long time and I’ve seen him locked in,” Martinez said. “I don’t know if you want to call it locked in, but I’ve seen him hit for the whole year when he was younger. He hit .300 many, many times. His body feels good. He’s swinging the bat well. He’s playing really well. He’s moving really well. Just want to make sure we keep him that way and keep him fresh.”
Martinez said Kendrick could still play a corner outfield spot down the road. But because of the injury situation in the infield, and having Gerardo Parra and Michael A. Taylor available for the outfield, decided to place Kendrick at second base tonight.
* Right-hander Trevor Rosenthal was in the clubhouse and back to working out with the team. Martinez said that if this weekend goes well, Rosenthal will head back to Harrisburg to continue rehab innings in Double-A games.
“He’s been throwing quite a bit, so he’s going to throw a side tomorrow and then we are going to give him two days off and get him back on the mound on Tuesday,” Martinez said.
“He’s going to throw a bullpen tomorrow and I want to get some eyes on him and see where he’s at.”
Update: The Reds batted around in the first, scoring five runs on seven hits off of Corbin. Eugenio Suárez and Yasiel Puig started the deluge with RBI singles. Curt Casali blasted a three-run homer to deep left field. Surprisingly, in 11 previous starts this season, Corbin had allowed seven hits only once, in his opening start against the Mets March 31. That start lasted six innings.
After two innings, the Reds lead the Nats 5-1.
Update II: The Reds chased Corbin in the third with three runs on four more hits, highlighted by an RBI single from Joey Votto that completed the scoring. With the bases loaded, Trea Turner booted a grounder off the bat of Kyle Farmer to score a run.
Corbin finished 2 2/3 innings, his shortest stint of the season, allowing a season-high eight runs (six earned runs) on 11 hits with no walks and two strikeouts. He threw 65 pitches, 41 for strikes. Javy Guerra replaced him and recorded the final out of the third.
Soto hit a solo shot deep over the center field wall in the fourth for his 10th homer of the season.
Mid-fourth, the Reds lead the Nats 8-2.
Update III: The Reds added a run off of Guerra in the fourth courtesy an RBI double by Casali. He has three hits and four RBIs in the game. The Reds led 9-2.
In the fifth, the Nats grabbed a run-scoring single from Turner. With the bases loaded and two outs, Soto flew out to deep center field. Mid-fifth, the Reds lead the Nats 9-3.
Update IV: The Nats went 1-2-3 in the ninth versus Matt Bowman. Pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra grounded out to second to end the game.
Final score: the Reds 9, the Nats 3.