LaRoche out with tight back, Wednesday time change, Roark’s innings and more

For those planning to watch Wednesday night’s Nationals game at Citizens Bank Park, you’ll have to tune in 30 minutes later than normal.

First pitch has been backed up to 7:30 p.m. because the Phillies will be honoring the Mid-Atlantic Little League champion Taney Dragons in a pregame ceremony.

As for tonight, first baseman Adam LaRoche is out of the Nats lineup, but not because left-hander Cole Hamels is starting for the Phils. Manager Matt Williams told reporters in Philadelphia that LaRoche has been dealing with back tightness for three or four days.

laroche-red-beard-swing-sidebar.jpg“Today it’s a little worse, so it’s just an opportunity to give him some rest,” Williams said. “But he woke up this morning tight, so they’re going to work on him hard today and hopefully he’ll be good to go tomorrow. ...

“He just gets tight every once in a while. He plays a lot. He’s been on the bases a lot. We’ve had some long games and all of that contributes to it. He was in there originally until we talked today. So he’s a little tight. But he’ll be good. ... He’s going to just chill out today and get some work done, and hopefully it’ll all alleviate itself tonight and he’ll be good to go tomorrow.”

Williams said it’s possible that LaRoche is available off the bench, but added that the veteran’s back will be worked on deep into the contest and it depends on how he feels.

Williams hopes LaRoche will be able to return to the lineup Wednesday.

“I think he’ll be ready tomorrow. But again, we’ll see how he wakes up in the morning, too,” Williams said. “The benefit that we’ve got is that it’s a night game tomorrow as well, so he’s got some time.”

Also before Tuesday’s game, Williams discussed how the Nats will handle right-hander Tanner Roark down the stretch. The 27-year-old is 12-8 with a 2.81 ERA in 26 starts, and has pitched a career-high 166 2/3 innings this year.

Teams differ in their philosophies on how to extend a pitcher’s innings year by year. Some go 20-30 innings beyond the previous season. It doesn’t sound like the Nats intend to shut Roark down, but Williams said the team will need to monitor him.

“It’s important for us to keep an eye on that. It’s uncharted territory,” Williams said. “So we are in the business of winning games and we’re going to continue to give him the ball and have him pitch for us because he’s been really, really good. But we have to keep an eye on where he gets to and how many innings he gets to, kind of monitor that the next five weeks. But it is what it is. He’s pitched so many innings because he’s been so good. That’s a good thing, but we have to keep an eye on it, too. ...

“Tanner, for me anyways, he’s not a power pitcher per se. So lack of velocity on any given start, it makes his ball move even more. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing. He relies on changeup, curveball, slider, fastball command. So I look at his command and say that’s important, and of course we don’t want to get him in a situation where he throws too many innings and hurts his arm. But he feels strong, he looks fine. He continues to go out there and compete, and he works hard in between starts. I think he’s fine. We’ll just have to see how it goes the rest of the way.”

Williams went into greater detail about how the Nats will control Roark’s innings, and it won’t be by skipping starts.

“There may be situations like that if we have a lead, a good lead and he’s through seven, we may not send him out for the eighth,” Williams said. “So that’s what I mean. Not necessarily skipping him, but being mindful of where he’s at innings-wise, pitch count-wise, and if those situations arise, then look at the potential of getting him out of a game if we’re ahead and if we’re comfortable in that regard.

“So in that regard, too, we also have to be mindful of the back of our bullpen, which is important, too. So those are the decisions you have to make in situations like this where you’ve got a young pitcher that hasn’t been here before. So we’ll continue to monitor that.”

The Nats will cross the bridge of how to handle the situation in October if they get there.

“Well, we all hope. We all hope that’s the case. But we must get there first and we must play well if we’re going to get there,” Williams said. “So that’s just counting chickens before they’re hatched, man. Because he’s in uncharted territory and he’s never been here before, we’ll try to within the game or within his start, try to help him out if we can. But geez, if he’s 75 pitches through seven and we’re in a tight game, there’s no reason just to take him out because he’s pitched well to get there. So we want to give him that chance, too.”

This afternoon, outfielder Steven Souza Jr. was named the International League MVP and Rookie of the Year. Souza appeared in 13 games for the Nats this year. He has batted .354/.435/.601 with 23 doubles, 18 homers, 70 RBIs and 24 steals in 91 games.

“I just think he took a major step forward. I think he and certainly Michael Taylor took major steps this year, and that’s gratifying to see,” Williams said. “It speaks to our player development guys, certainly the manager - Billy Gardner was the Manager of the Year. Congratulations to him as well. And it just speaks to the way they helped these kids get to where they want to get to. So they’ve both been in the big leagues this year. They’re both very close to being here on an everyday basis, and we’re happy for them.

“It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication by a lot of folks to have guys that are named MVPs and Rookies of the Year, and things like that. So it’s kudos to our development guys that are teaching these guys how to play the game and helping them along the way, and to the players, too. They work hard and they have desire to get here eventually, and it won’t be long now. They’re both on the verge of being here full-time.”

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