WASHINGTON (AP) — Tanner Roark will start Game 2 for the Washington Nationals in their NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday, filling a spot that very likely would have gone to Stephen Strasburg if he were healthy.
Strasburg, though, is out for the NLDS after hurting his pitching elbow late in the regular season. On Friday, he had his first bullpen session off a mound since being sidelined exactly a month earlier, and the Nationals are hoping the right-hander could be available later in the postseason if they advance.
"He's following our return-to-throw program and he's on schedule with that, so that's good," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow and take it from there. We'll literally go day by day."
For the right-handed Roark (16-10, 2.83 ERA), the assignment announced Friday represents the latest sign of an impressive return to starting in 2016 after being relegated to the bullpen last season despite winning 15 games as a member of Washington's 2014 rotation. Lefty Rich Hill (3-2, 1.84 ERA in six starts for LA after a trade from Oakland) will pitch Game 2 for the Dodgers.
"Emotions already are pretty high right now. ... If you're not nervous, you're not human and you don't care, I feel like," said Roark, who was told Thursday he would pitch in Game 2. "So for me, being nervous is a good thing."
Hill was with the Nationals in spring training last season, then pitched at their Triple-A Syracuse affiliate before they parted ways. He wound up pitching for an independent team before working his way all the way back to the majors.
"Would have liked to have seen it work out here, sure, no doubt," said Hill, who played for current Nationals manager Dusty Baker when both were with the Chicago Cubs a decade ago.
The choice of Roark was not all that surprising, and Baker smiled broadly as he joked to media members before Game 1 on Friday: "Well, you know, we weren't debating that much. We were just kind of messing with you guys, to tell you the truth."
Second baseman Daniel Murphy was listed in the lineup, hitting cleanup, his first start since Sept. 17 after missing time because of a strained glute muscle. In a tweak to the batting order in front of Murphy, Baker flipped Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, moving up 2015 NL MVP Harper from No. 3 to No. 2, and shifting Werth from No. 2 to No. 3.
"I just talked to them out of respect," Baker said, "but they said, 'Hey, Skip, whatever you want to do, and whatever you think that's best, that's what you do.'"
Both teams officially released their 25-man NLDS rosters, and Washington's includes only seven relievers, including three lefties. Baker said he wanted extra position players on the bench because of the possible need for pinch runners, particularly for Murphy.
Reynaldo Lopez is the only long reliever in the bullpen, while Sammy Solis, Oliver Perez and Marc Rzepczynski are the lefties; Sean Burnett is the odd man out.
Infielder Wilmer Difo and outfielder Michael A. Taylor made the roster, while relievers Burnett, Matt Belisle and Yusmeiro Petit and outfielders Ben Revere and Brian Goodwin were left off.
"We contemplated many, many different scenarios," Baker said.
The Dodgers' roster was as promised, with three catchers: Carlos Ruiz, Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes, who can also play in the infield. LA also has only seven relievers.
The Game 3 starting pitchers are lefty Gio Gonzalez for Washington, and righty Kenta Maeda for Los Angeles.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.