Tanner Roark is a bulldog on the mound. The Cincinnati Reds are hoping his toughness will solidify its starting rotation.
The 32-year old right-hander pitched 180 or more innings in four of his six big league seasons with the Washington Nationals.
Roark posted winning records in 2014 (15-10), 2016 (16-10) and 2017 (13-11). He worked a career-high 210 innings in 2016. Roark slipped to 9-15 last season.
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The Reds figure to benefit from Roark, who averaged 197 innings pitched person his first six years. A young pitching staff has struggled to pitch deep into games the last three seasons and taxed the bullpen.
“I would say he’s a stable presence,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He’s continuing to make good adjustments over his career. He seems to get better and better. He is a guy who has had a lot of different experiences and a lot of success on good teams. He is a really good pitcher and makes everybody around him better.”
Bell has yet to slot the rotation but doesn’t think of Roark as just someone to give the bullpen a break. He won’t necessarily be a third or fourth starter.
“I see him as not just an innings eater but a guy that gives us a chance to win every time he goes out,” Bell said. “That’s saying a lot. It is nice to have him in that rotation no matter where we slot him in.”
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Roark believes in his new teammates, even though he’s been with them just three days. His knowledge of them exceeds what is on paper about them. He is one of three starters, along with Alex Wood and Sonny Gray, who the front office brought in to help the Reds compete now. Roark, like Wood, is under team control for one season.
“Getting the three of us can do a lot for this team,” Roark said “(The Reds) were already a pain to deal with. Their lineup is so tough, one through eight, one through nine. It was just a pain to deal with, fouling off stuff, making you work for every out, every inning.”
“There are a lot of young arms here,” Roark added. “A lot of young players in general. I’d like to pass along to stay mentally tough. Don’t be afraid to fail. I’ve been through it I still at times go out there and think too much. What do you have to lose? Just go out with your best pitch and do your best.”
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Roark learned to battle through the toughest season in his career in 2018. He lost 10 of 11 decisions between May 5 and July 13, including six in a row. Roark recovered with five straight wins.
“There are going to be grinds throughout the season and you can’t let this game beat you,” he said. “You have to stay mentally tough and mentally strong. There are things that you fight through that make you tough as a baseball player. I had to grind the last two years a little bit mentally. The biggest part of staying on top of your game is the mental aspect. I know that I have all the right pitches, all the right stuff and the mentality to be out there. You have to use that and build off each start.”
Roark said it doesn’t matter to him where the Reds slot him in the rotation.
“After the first game, it doesn’t matter,” Roark said. “You are going to pitch every fifth day. The biggest obstacle is consistency. The cliché stuff like playing together is big. It is about playing together and have fun. We’re playing a kid’s game.”
Senzel in center
David Bell’s only questions this spring is who will play center field and who will comprise the four-man bench. He is leaning toward carrying 13 pitchers most of the year.
Top prospect Nick Senzel is going to get a chance to play in center. Philip Ervin and Scott Schebler have experience there.
“I saw Senzel for the first time,” Bell said. “My first thought was that he can really move on the field. He is a good athlete. We will keep him sharp at his other positions but he has the ability to play in center.”
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