PHILADELPHIA — Tanner Roark will make the first start of his major league career on Saturday when the rookie right-hander takes the ball for the Nationals against the Marlins.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson tabbed Roark for the assignment over Ross Ohlendorf, who had been occupying that spot in the rotation, and Stephen Strasburg, who could’ve come back to start that game on regular rest because of the team’s off-day on Thursday.
He opted for Roark, however, for a multitude of reasons.
The first was to give the rookie an opportunity to show the Nationals he can be considered as a potential starter for the 2014 season. But the team was also disinclined to move up Strasburg’s start because the right-hander has been dealing with some hamstring soreness. He is still expected to start on Sunday.
“It’s nothing against Ohlendorf,” Johnson said. “Ohlendorf’s been great, but I think that the young man has deserved an opportunity to start a game or two before the end of the year. And I’ll keep Ohlendorf in the same slot as him in case there’s any hiccups.
“I talked to Stephen about (starting Saturday) and (pitching coach Steve McCatty) talked to him about it. He’s got a few little issues with that hammy still. Feel like it’d be better to give him the extra day.”
Johnson indicated that the issue was not a significant one, but Strasburg, who has dealt with a lat strain and some groin tightness already this season, preferred to get the extra day instead of having the Nationals skip a spot in the rotation to keep him on regular rest.
“There’s no sense taking any chance,” Johnson said. “Just not worth the risk/reward.”
Johnson stressed that this was not a demotion for Ohlendorf, who’d made three starts for the Nationals since coming off the disabled list (right shoulder inflammation) and performed well. He will return to the bullpen for the time being, but remain lined up on Roark’s schedule to be returned to the rotation if necessary.
“(Ohlendorf’s) done a great job. I have no fault in him,” Johnson said. “This is more giving Tanner Roark an opportunity to start a game up here in the big leagues, see how he does. He’s been unbelievably good out of the ‘pen. But he’s a young starter, and our reports are, (pitching coordinator Spin Williams) really likes him as a big league starter. So we’re going to take a good look at that.”
In 22.2 innings of relief, Roark has allowed just three earned runs off 14 hits, seven walks while striking out 19. He’s been tremendously durable for the Nationals, too, throwing multiple innings and being able to bounce back a day or two later to do it again.
He was largely a starter in the minor leagues, though, starting 26 of 28 games in 2012 and 11 of 33 in 2013. He’ll get an opportunity to showcase his versatility on Saturday.