Tanner Roark Is Ready To Compete For Fifth Spot In The Nationals' Rotation

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

"I'd love to be the fifth starter," Tanner Roark told reporters on Saturday in an interview from NatsFest, but he'll do whatever he's asked in 2014 whether it's starting or pitching out of the bullpen. He succeeded in both roles last season. Can he do it again in 2014?

Tanner Roark, 27, made his major league debut on August 7, 2013 after six seasons and 667 2/3 innings pitched in the minors. The right-handed starter/reliever ended his first major league stint with a (7-1) record, a 1.51 ERA, a 2.41 FIP, 1 HR (0.17 HR/9) and 11 walks (1.84 BB/9) allowed and 40 Ks (6.71 K/9) collected in 14 games, five starts and 53 2/3 IP for the Washington Nationals who acquired him from Texas in a July 2010 trade that sent shortstop Cristian Guzman to the Rangers.

"I'd love to be the fifth starter, but if I can make the team out of Spring Training, that would be great to help the team out any way I can." - Tanner Roark talking to reporters at NatsFest

Before he was called up this past summer, Roark made 33 appearances for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, 11 of them as a starter. In the majors, Roark made nine relief appearances and five starts. He had a 1.74 ERA in 31 IP as a starter, holding opposing hitters to a .209/.241/.252 line. In relief, Roark had a 1.19 ERA in 22 2/3 IP, with opposing hitters posting a .180/.247/.195 line against him.

Roark put himself in the mix for the fifth starter's spot in 2014 with his successful run on the mound for the Nationals last year, and as he told reporters on Saturday afternoon at NatsFest in the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center, he'd, of course, like to be a part of the rotation, but he's willing to do whatever it takes to make the Nationals' roster.

"I'd love to be the fifth starter," Roark said, "but if I can make the team out of Spring Training, that would be great to help the team out any way I can. So I just want to make the team and I want to win the World Series. That's everybody's desire, right?"

Roark's call-up last season prepared him for what's in store. "It takes a lot of weight off your shoulders," the right-hander explained. "Because you're not as nervous, but I still get butterflies. I still get nervous every time I get there on the mound. But, I mean, it's prepared me well and being around a good group of guys that help talk to you and settle you down sometimes is good too."

"McCatty just said just to be ready to compete for that fifth spot, so I'm going to go out there and do it and if they need me in the bullpen, I'll go to the bullpen." - Tanner Roark on starting vs relieving in 2014

The Nationals haven't given Roark much of an idea of how they plan to use him this season, other than to tell him to come to Florida prepared to battle for a spot in the rotation.

"[Pitching Coach Steve] McCatty just said just to be ready to compete for that fifth spot, so I'm going to go out there and do it and if they need me in the bullpen, I'll go to the bullpen. Just whatever I can do to help."

"Whatever they want me to do, I'll do it," Roark continued. "I don't care. Anything to help out the team. It's just a different mindset. Starting, you have four days to prepare yourself. And then relieving, you just flip that switch right away once you hear that phone ring, everybody looks back to see whose name is going to be called. So, you just flip that switch right away and get ready to go."

Asked if his success in both roles was a bit of a double-edged sword since the Nationals have seen they can use him as a starter or reliever, Roark agreed that it might be. "Yeah, you could look at it that way, for sure," he said. "And just, like I said, it's a different mindset. Because it takes me like a week to get used to it, maybe, like if you're relieving, you've got to flip that switch like I said. If you're starting you get five days and you mentally prepare yourself right away, so. I don't know. It's good either way."

Roark's road to the minors was a long one, but he said he turned a corner in 2012 and his struggles along the way prepared him well for what he faced in the majors.

"My 2012 year in Syracuse," Roark explained, "when I wasn't doing so well. I wasn't doing too hot and I just got over it mentally. That was the biggest thing. I knew I had the tools, I just needed to get out of my own head and that's what helped me come up here and be able to do what I'm doing right now and keep doing what I'm doing, hopefully for a long time."

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