Tanner Roark started but did not factor into the decision in Sunday’s 4-3, 13-inning loss to the Cubs. Roark pitched well, yielding a lone unearned run on four hits and a pair of walks with seven strikeouts in six innings of work. Neither of his walks were intentional.
That’s notable because Roark watched teammate Bryce Harper get walked six times in seven plate appearances on Sunday, with three of those walks of the intentional variety. In fact, in the Cubs’ four-game series sweep of the Nationals, Harper was walked 13 times in 18 trips to the plate. Teams have become increasingly less willing to pitch to Harper, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s reluctance hasn’t been seen since the early 2000’s when Barry Bonds routinely drew intentional walks.
Roark was “very, very surprised” to see the Cubs avoid Harper so deliberately, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. He added, “I think it’s scared baseball.”
While some rudimentary analysis showed that most of Harper’s walks were ill-advised, the Cubs limited him to one single for the entire series and they wound up sweeping the Nationals. So, in that regard, the strategy worked. The Nationals will likely have to get used to it because if Harper continues hitting the cover off of the ball, opposing managers will be more and more unwilling to pitch to him, particularly in important situations.