By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Tanner Roark made his first career start against his old team Saturday afternoon, the Washington Nationals. He wanted to provide the pitching and hoped his teammates provided the offense.
It was just the opposite. Roark was barely ordinary on the mound and provided all the offense. He drove in both Cincinnati Reds runs with a squeeze bunt and his first career home run.
But he also gave up two home runs, four runs and six hits over six innings and was handed a 5-2 defeat.
Roark came to the Reds last winter in a Tanner-for-Tanner deal — Tanner Roark to the Reds for Reds pitcher Tanner Rainey. In a twist of Tanners, Rainey pitched Saturday in relief, 1 1/3 perfect innings with three strikeouts and was rewarded with his first major league victory.
Roark said he was not overcome with emotions over facing his former teammates.
“I wasn’t actually emotional, it wasn’t as crazy as I thought it would be,” said Roark. “I was a little nervous before the game. But overall I felt very under control. It was weird, almost like a spring training game where you see the guys in live batting practice.
“It was a game against your friends and definitely odd,” he said.
As Roark spoke to the media, Derek Dietrich walked by, tossed Roark a shirt and said, “Congratulations. Welcome to the club.”
On the first was DD/22 (Dietrich’s number) and his slogan, “Let It Fly.”
“He has 17 taters (home run) and I got my first home run, so that was cool,” said Roark. “I would have loved to win the game more than anything.”
Gerardo Parra, who used to extract his pound of flesh from the Reds regularly when he wore Arizona, Milwaukee and Colorado uniforms, extracted about three pounds in the first inning.
Wearing his new Nationals uniform, Parra tagged Roark for a three-run home run, a blast that followed singles by Anthony Rendon and Brian Dozier in the second inning.
“I felt like I made a good pitch, up-and-in,” said Roark. “I checked it and it was a good pitch. But also it is in his hot zone and I have to know that coming in.
“I felt I’ve had success lately pitching up there and pitching inside. He was maybe thinking along with me. Maybe it was just one of those things when you tip your cap,” Roark added.
Parra’s home run was his eighth career against the Reds, tied for the most against any team with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the first home run off Roark in 35 1/3 innings.
“I knew it was pretty good, hadn’t given up one in a long time,” said Roark. ‘“At least they both were bombs.”
The Reds had the bases loaded with one out in the first, but Jesse Winker hit into an inning-concluding double play.
The Reds scored one in the second on Roark’s suicide squeeze bunt, but they left the bases loaded when Eugenio Suarez flied to left.
Derek Dietrich and Jesse Winker opened the third with singles, but Yasiel Puig struck out for the third straight time, this time on three pitches, and Jose Iglesias hit into a double play.
The two teams exchanged home runs in the fourth. Matt Adams hit one so far and deep into the right field stands that when he hit it right fielder Yasiel Puig never flinched a muscle and stood as still as a cemetery statue.
Roark matched that with his home run over the left center field fence with one out in the bottom of the fourth, his first career home run. It was 4-2 after four.
The Reds spliced together another threat in the fifth on back-to-back singles by Eugenio Suarez and Derek Dietrich to open the inning. It ended the same way — another double play, this one by Jesse Winker, his second of the game and fourth rally-killing double play in the past week.
Matt Bowman had not given up a run in his five appearances since a call-up from Class AAA Louisville when he walked to the mound for the ninth inning. Brian Dozier quickly ended that with a leadoff home run into the left field seats.
“We put runners on base and had the opportunities and we have been coming through in those situations,” said manager David Bell. “Sometimes the hitting doesn’t get easier just because there are runners on base.
“The key to the game was that we had the runners on base early and didn’t come up with the hits,” said Bell. “That was the difference.”
Bell praised Roark’s work off the mound, other than the two home runs, and his work in the batter’s box.
“That was the perfect bunt,” he said about the squeeze. “Tanner can swing the bat. He has shown that. I’m surprised that was his first career home run, just the way he swings the bat. There will be more to come.”
When it does, Roark hopes his teammates can chip in with some power, too.