Washington Nationals' starter Tanner Roark finished his breakthrough 2013 campaign with a seven-inning outing in Arizona in which he threw 95 pitches and induced 16 ground ball outs from the Diamondbacks' hitters. Roark, 27, debuted in August after six seasons in the minors and 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 13 games, five starts and 53 2/3 IP.
Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson was impressed.
"Every time he's out there I've liked his work," Johnson told reporters after the game. "He's been outstanding. This is a good-hitting ballclub. He makes his pitches. He's unfazed. If we boot a ball behind him he goes right after them. He's got a heck of a shot next year of making this club."
Johnson, who had just managed his last game, was asked if, in his role as an advisor, he would recommend Roark for a starting job in 2014.
"If they ask me," he said. With Spring Training a little over a month away, Roark is in the mix for the fifth starter's spot.
In his first Grapefruit League action last spring, the right-hander made just two appearances for the Nationals, giving up four hits and four runs in 2 1/3 IP in which he walked three and K'd three.
"We saw him in the spring," Johnson said this past September. "He was a little over-throwing. A little wild. Trying to impress."
Roark was sent to Triple-A Syracuse to start the season. He put up 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 the majors.
"[Nats' pitching coordinator] Spin [Williams] gave me good reports on him," Johnson told reporters after a start at home in D.C. late this year. "[He] said he was a big league pitcher and I put a lot in to what he says. But ever since he's been here, whether it's out of the pen or starting, it's been quality. I can't say enough about location. Everybody's all wrapped up in the velocity, but he pitches 92-93-94 [mph], but he's got a good curve ball. Good slider. And the location is outstanding."
As for how he was doing it? "He's got good stuff, no.1," Johnson said. "But he's got great command. He uses both sides on good hitters... sets up breaking balls. He's a pitcher."
Though he won't be the one in Spring Training making the decision on 2014's Opening Day rotation, Johnson told reporters would give Roark a slight edge over fellow first-year starter Taylor Jordan based on what he saw from each in 2013.
"I was comparing him with Taylor Jordan," Johnson said, "and telling [pitching coach Steve McCatty], 'Taylor Jordan's got the more, maybe, harder fastball, good changeup, scouts will like him over Tanner,' but I said, 'I've got to put Tanner ahead of him because of great command. And his poise out there is unbelievable. And he competes."
The addition of Doug Fister this winter, however, pushed Ross Detwiler back into the mix of pitchers competing for the fifth spot. Can either Roark or Jordan knock Detwiler out of the rotation? Steve McCatty, in an MLB Network interview last month, seemed to hint that he thought Detwiler might have the edge.
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"I know everybody brought the question up, 'Who's going to be no.5?'" McCatty said. "If Det comes back healthy, he's going to do well. He always has great Spring Trainings."
Can Tanner Roark do it again and reproduce his 2013 stats in 2014?
As FBB's Garrett Hooe wrote in a post on Roark's success this past season, Minor League Ball's John Sickels first noted an improvement with Roark in 2011, his first full campaign in the Nats' system following the trade with the Texas Rangers that brought him to the organization, writing at the time that in spite of the fact that he was working with a fastball that wasn't "especially fast", his command and ability/willingness to throw strikes at Double-A would likely earn him a shot "at higher levels" in the near future.
Two years later, given his chance, Roark made the most of his first major league stint. In the minors, his BB/9 dropped for the third straight season from 3.00 BB/9 in 117 IP at Double-A in 2011 and 2.86 BB/9 in 147 2/3 IP at Triple-A in 2012 to 1.70 BB/9 in 105 2/3 IP with Syracuse last year (1.84 BB/9 in the majors). His BABIP fell from .322 and .332 in the two previous seasons to .258 at Triple-A in 2013 and .243 in 53 2/3 IP in the majors. Roark's HR/9 dropped from 0.77 and 0.85 in 2011 and 2012 at Triple-A, respectively, to 0.51 HR/9 with the Nats' top affiliate in 2013 and 0.17 HR/9 in the majors.
Can Roark do it all again in 2014?
Will he be pitching out of the pen or be a part of the rotation? Does his flexibility and the success he's had in a relief role make him a good fit for the bullpen? Does he end up starting at Triple-A so he's ready to fill in when needed? What does the future hold for Tanner Roark?
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