Mar 23, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Having seen both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan pitch for nearly six weeks now, Nationals manager Matt Williams admitted his opinion of either right-hander probably wasn’t to be altered much by each hurler’s final Grapefruit League start.
There’s nothing wrong, however, with leaving a good impression on your manager’s mind before the final decision on the club’s No. 5 starter has to be made. So Roark’s strong outing today against the Mets could only have helped his cause.
“I think he’s made a very good case,” Williams said. “We’ll get a good look at Taylor again (on Monday). But Tanner certainly made a really strong case.”
Roark tossed 5 2/3 innings of 1-run ball, surrendering only two hits and a walk while striking out five. He was so efficient that he wound up heading to the bullpen after he departed the game just to throw another 18 pitches and bring his total for the day up to 90.
“I thought it went pretty well,” he said. “Like I said after my last start against the Tigers, I felt like I can throw any pitch in any count. So that was the biggest thing. Just getting my off-speed (pitches) down and locating fastballs.”
Roark wraps up his work in the Grapefruit League with solid numbers across the board: a 3.29 ERA over 13 2/3 innings, having allowed 11 hits and three walks while striking out 11.
All he can do now is wait and learn his fate. Jordan starts Monday against the Marlins. At some point before camp breaks Thursday, the Nationals will decide whether Roark has made the roster as their No. 5 starter or seventh reliever, or whether he’ll open the season at Class AAA Syracuse.
“I went out there and competed,” Roark said. “Got outs. Didn’t walk many guys. I did have leadoff walks, and those come back to bite you, and they did today. Other than that, I feel like I’ve done pretty well.”
Some more observations from today’s 3-1 loss at Tradition Field…
— One day after making mistakes both on the bases and in the field, Bryce Harper made smart plays in each area. In the top of the first, he stole second (and was eventually called safe after Williams challenged the call, more on that in a moment) and then took third on a ball in the dirt. That allowed him to score on Ryan Zimmerman’s infield single. Then in the bottom of the second, Harper couldn’t haul in Chris Young’s double off the wall in the left field corner but managed to track down the ball by the Mets’ bullpen and then fired a perfect throw to third base to nail Young trying to stretch the hit into a triple. “Right on the money,” Williams said. “That’s the good side of it. He stayed on his feet and was able to get back toward the infield when the ball trickled and made a good throw to third. It was like an infielder.”
— Harper also nearly beat out a drag bunt in the top of the sixth against old pal John Lannan, only to be thrown out by a hair at first base. Since he arrived in the big leagues, there have been some questions about whether Harper should be bunting at all, but Williams wholeheartedly endorses it. “I like it,” he said. “We’re trying to create something, and that’s available to him, as we spoke about, all the time. It was almost really good. It was just a touch hard, but it’s a great idea.”
— Drew Storen had a rough afternoon, his latest in a string of them this spring. He entered in the seventh and immediately walked David Wright on four pitches, then served up a towering home run to Curtis Granderson. Throw in another walk later in the frame, and Storen now finds himself with the following pitching line for the spring: 5 2/3 innings, 8 hits, 6 earned runs, 6 walks, 5 strikeouts, 1 hit batter. Williams insisted he’s not concerned, and for what it’s worth, Storen was downright awful in the spring of 2011, only to have a fantastic regular season. Still, given his struggles through the first half of last year, you’d like for the right-hander to head north with a bit more positive momentum.
— At the other end of the spectrum, Aaron Barrett had yet another impressive afternoon. Even if it was incredibly brief. The young right-hander, trying to make the Opening Day bullpen after serving as Class AA Harrisburg’s closer last season, entered with one on and one out in the bottom of the eighth. And he got Darrell Ciciliani to ground into a double play on his very first pitch, ending the inning. Not bad for a day’s work. Barrett still has yet to give up a run or walk a batter in 8 2/3 innings this spring and he remains very much in the mix for the final spot in the Nationals’ Opening Day bullpen. “I think I put myself in a pretty good spot,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. I’ve been fortunate for the opportunity to be able to pitch as much as I have and be around such great teammates. It’s been very easy to come over from the minor-league side and fit in with all these guys. I’m trying to get better every day, and trying to stay over here as long as I can.”
— As for that overturned call on the Harper stolen base, Williams was excited to get the opportunity to challenge a play like that, where initially it appeared catcher Anthony Recker’s throw and second baseman Daniel Murphy’s tag beat Harper to the base. But as a former infielder himself, Williams knows those plays sometimes fool you. When a throw skips in front of the bag, the infielder’s glove usually comes up before it comes back down. And sure enough, that happened to Murphy, with Harper’s left hand touching the base just a tick before the tag. “That’s the hardest one, because the ball clearly beat him,” Williams said. “But what happens with the infielder dictates a lot of whether he’s out or safe. So, split-second, naked eye, you could’ve made an argument either way. But understanding that he’s got to pick the ball up out of the dirt and come up before he goes down, you may have a shot there. I don’t know if we were absolutely sure, but we thought this was an opportunity to go take another look.” That was Williams’ first successful challenge of the spring, and it entitled him to another later in the game. He went ahead and used it on a play at first base in the top of the ninth, but he was pretty sure his runner was out. And indeed, the call stood upon review.
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