LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tanner Roark is getting a chance to redeem himself in the World Baseball Classic.
The Washington Nationals pitcher will start for the United States against Japan in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night. The Americans are trying to reach the championship game for the first time in four editions of the WBC.
The Netherlands was set to face Puerto Rico on Monday night for the other spot in Wednesday’s final.
Japan advanced to the semifinals by winning Pool E with a 3-0 record. The U.S. finished second to Puerto Rico in Pool F with a 2-1 record.
Manager Jim Leyland is turning to Roark against right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano.
Roark came on in relief during a 7-5 loss to the Dominican Republic in the first round on March 11 in Miami. The right-hander allowed a solo homer to Manny Machado that launched the Dominicans’ comeback, along with a two-run single by Carlos Santana.
“He’s gotten the short end of the stick a little bit so far, to be honest with you, the way things worked out,” Leyland said Monday. “But he deserves this start. He’s been a trooper. He signed up for this event, and I’m pitching him. I feel very, very comfortable about it.”
Roark appreciates the opportunity in a game he says is the biggest of his career because of the single-elimination format.
“It’s been a little bit since I’ve been in there facing live hitters,” he said. “But the key is to pitch to my strength, and that is throw strikes and get outs.”
Roark has worked to stay sharp in multiple bullpen sessions and by watching games closely.
“Just trying to stay mentally focused on the game, even though I’m not in there,” he said. “Just watching how the hitters react, and just watching and trying to learn as much as I can from all these guys.”
Sugano learned he would start the semifinal while he was waiting at Narita Airport for the team’s flight to the United States.
“I trust him,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said.
Japan played an exhibition against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Arizona on Sunday, where the climate is hot.
Conditions in Los Angeles will be considerably cooler, with rain in the forecast on Tuesday and Wednesday and temperatures around 65 degrees.
“It’s finally here,” Sugano said. “Tomorrow, for sure we’ll win and advance to the final, that’s how I feel.”