Matt Williams’ message to Tanner Roark

We all know the situation Tanner Roark is in.

After winning 15 games last season and posting a stellar 2.85 ERA in a breakout year, Roark, almost unfathomably, will likely start the season in the Nationals’ bullpen. That is, of course, assuming that the Nats don’t trade any of their starting pitchers before opening day.

There’s always the chance of injury when it comes to pitchers, however, and even if Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez are all on the Nats’ roster throughout spring training, Roark might still be needed to slide into the rotation because someone has landed on the disabled list.

roark-red-pitching-short-hair-sidebar.jpgThat was the crux of the message that manager Matt Williams delivered to Roark recently, when he called the right-hander to discuss his role for 2015 following the Scherzer signing.

It was a conversation that Williams felt he wanted to have not just to give Roark some knowledge about how he might be used, but also to make sure that Roark still has the mindset of being a starting pitcher entering spring.

“I talked to Tanner,” Williams said, “and here’s what I told him: I said, ‘Of course, you know this is gonna happen, and Max is gonna be with us. There may be opportunity for you to pitch out of the bullpen, maybe. But you can’t count on that right now. What you need to do is be prepared to start.’

“We saw it last year with Doug. Doug missed a month. And all of a sudden, if you let go, if Tanner lets go of that mental makeup of being a starter too early, it’s tough to get that back. So he’s preparing to start. We’ll have to make a tough decision, maybe, during spring training. But he’s preparing to start. And if somebody has a hiccup, he’s ready. If for some reason, there’s a need for him to start, he’s ready. If for some reason, there’s a need for someone to go to the bullpen within that starting rotation, then we’ll have to make that decision, too.”

Essentially, it’s much easier for a starter to make the transition to the bullpen than it is for a reliever to lengthen it out and make the move back to the rotation. The last thing the Nats want is for Roark to start preparing to work an inning or two at a time and then suddenly need to stretch it out and give the team 5-7 innings.

So Roark will keep preparing as he has all offseason, as if he’s going to get the start every fifth day. And then, if the Nats need to make a decision regarding Roark and a relief role sometime late in spring, they’ll handle that then.

“Those are hard decisions,” Williams said, “but they’re good decisions, because that just means we have a lot of really good players.”

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