Starting depth was a concern for the Washington Nationals from the start of the 2013 campaign. In an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Chad Dukes and Grant Paulsen at the Nats' spring training facilities, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo acknowledged as much while noting that the 2012 NL East Champion Nationals had been fortunate to get through the season without any serious issues for the starting staff.
"Last year we were extremely fortunate that our five starters pitched healthily throughout the season," Rizzo said, "and it's always important to have depth in your system, depth on your major league club. But we think that we go seven deep at least in the system and we think that we'll find a breakthrough guy here in Spring Training that's going to help us some time during the 2013 season. Be it Zach Duke being that sixth starter or Christian Garcia -- who we think is going to be fine -- during the season being that guy or maybe it's Nathan Karns or somebody of that ilk to come up, take the next step forward and really be a guy that helps the ballclub going down the stretch."
Zach Duke didn't last long this season. Christian Garcia's been on an year-long rehab assignment with a series of injuries keeping him in the minors throughout the 2013 campaign. Nathan Karns, 25, came up briefly, made his MLB debut, posting a 7.50 ERA and a 8.38 FIP in three starts and 12 IP, then returned to Double-A Harrisburg, where he has a 3.26 ERA and a 3.48 FIP with 10.52 K/9 over 132 2/3 IP this season. Taylor Jordan, 24, surprised some by coming up after dominating at High-A and Double-A and pitching well enough in nine starts (3.66 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 1.92 BB/9, 5.05 K/9) to put himself in the conversation for a rotation spot next season before he was shut down in his first full season following Tommy John surgery.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, has been former Rangers' prospect Tanner Roark, an '08 25th Round pick acquired in the deadline deal in July of 2010 that sent Cristian Guzman to Texas. In his third season in the Nats' system and his second with Washington's Triple-A affiliate, the 6'2'', 220 lb right-hander had a 3.15 ERA, a 3.00 FIP, 20 walks (1.70 BB/9) and 84 Ks (7.15 K/9) in 33 games, 11 starts and 105 2/3 IP before he was called up to make his MLB debut on August 7th. Since then, Roark has been something of a revelation.
In 22 2/3 innings of relief work thus far in the majors, the 26-year-old, Wilmington, Illinois-born hurler has a 1.19 ERA, a 2.30 FIP, seven walks (2.78 BB/9) and 19 Ks (7.54 K/9), providing some much-needed and impressive damage control when members of the Nationals' rotation have faltered. Earlier this week, Davey Johnson decided to move Roark into a starting role, believing he deserved and had earned an opportunity to show what he could as a starter at the major league level.
Roark replaces Ross Ohlendorf in the rotation after the veteran right-hander struggled to go deep in his last few starts after a DL stint for right shoulder inflammation.
"'Ohlendorf’s been great,'" Johnson told reporters including the Washington Post's James Wagner this week, "'but I think that the young man has deserved an opportunity to start a game or two before the end of the year.'"
Roark gets his first opportunity tonight in the second game of three with the Marlins in Miami. The Nationals used eight starters total in 2012 with John Lannan pitching in a couple doubleheaders and filling in for Stephen Strasburg after Strasburg was shut down, Chien-Ming Wang getting a few opportunities to revive his career and Tom Gorzelanny taking a start late in the season after the Nationals had clinched the division crown.
When he takes the mound tonight in Marlins Park, Roark will be the 10th starter to toe the rubber for the defending NL East Champs, who are on the fringes of the Wild Card race and far back in second place in the NL East. Roark's managed to win four games (4-0) in his role as the long-man in the Nats' bullpen. Tonight he gets a chance to earn a curly-W as the starter.
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