Matt Williams' predecessor on the bench praised Tanner Roark after the then-26-year-old right-hander completed seven scoreless innings on the mound against the Atlanta Braves in Nationals Park last September.
"[Nats' Pitching Coordinator] Spin [Williams] gave me good reports on him," Johnson told reporters. "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," Johnson said. "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."
"It's been impressive," Johnson continued, "but it doesn't take long when you see a guy who knows how to pitch." At that point, in his first stint in the majors, Roark was up to 41 2/3 IP over which he posted a 1.08 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .183/.230/.197 line.
Roark made the rotation out of Spring Training after battling with Taylor Jordan for the fifth spot this spring. They both ended up on the Opening Day roster when Doug Fister dealt with elbow inflammation and then suffered a minor right lat strain. Heading into today's game, Roark was sporting a 3.80 ERA and a 4.06 FIP over four starts and 23 2/3 IP in which he allowed eight walks (3.04 BB/9) and collected 18 Ks (6.85 K/9).
WATCH: Miss any of Tanner Roark's fabulous shutout performance? Catch up here: http://t.co/k2yfa9mKkq— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 26, 2014
After tossing a complete game shutout against the San Diego Padres this afternoon, Roark's ERA was down to 2.76 on the year with his FIP down to 3.39. He needed 105 pitches to get through nine innings in Nationals Park. He took a no-hitter into the sixth before losing it on a one-out single by Padres' catcher Rene Rivera. He allowed three hits total on the day and induced 14 ground ball outs from the 31 batters he faced.
Davey Johnson's successor on the bench was equally impressed with what Roark has been able to accomplish.
"He's aggressive," Williams said after Roark improved to (2-0) this year in the Nationals' 4-0 win.
"He threw a lot of really good changeups today, for strikes," Williams continued. "And that's one of his weapons. He keeps lefties off-balance with that. Comeback fastball in to the lefties as well. Through the ball really well."
Roark's rapid ascent from old-ish Triple-A prospect to where he is now raises some questions about whether or not other teams are still figuring him out, but Williams, like Johnson before him, thinks Roark has shown that he's capable of getting the job done at the major league level.
"I think he competes and I think he's got the ability, certainly, to pitch at this level," Williams said. "And he's got four quality pitches that he throws. All of them for strikes. He can hit. He can bunt. He does well out there. Has the ability to change speeds really well."
When a reporter asked about advanced metrics which rate Roark as having four plus pitches, Williams said he could see how that makes sense, though he defined "plus" pitches in his own terms.
"I love analytics," he explained, "but for me it's about plus pitches thrown where you want it to be thrown. Regardless of what it is. So, does that say something about him and the way he goes about it? Probably. You grade it as a plus pitch because he can throw it where he wants to throw it. So that's, for me, that's plus, so in that regard, he's got four of them."
He's also unflappable thus far in his major league career, with a calm demeanor on the mound regardless of the circumstances. Asked in a post game interview with MASN's Dan Kolko this afternoon if he ever thought about the fact that he was on his way to a no-hitter after retiring the first sixteen batters he faced, Roark said it never even crossed his mind.
"No," Roark said. "I wasn't thinking about it at all, just keep pounding the strike zone and going after guys. I wasn't trying to think about it at all."
"That's kind of his personality," Williams said when asked about how unfazed by it all the right-hander seems. "He waits his turn to get the ball again. He takes the other parts of his game very seriously as well as his pitching. Fields his position, throws to the bases and does a lot of things that are conducive to helping yourself win. And that's not to mention his pitching, the way he goes about it."
Roark: "I feel confident on the mound. I feel strong. Getting ahead of hitters is biggest thing. Strike 1 is the best pitch you can throw."— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 26, 2014
Asked about Roark's strong numbers against right-handed hitters, who were held to a .179/.225/.210 line heading into today's start, Williams broke down what he thinks Roark does well against righties.
"Command of the fastball down and away," he said. "Right on right changeup. Which you don't always see. Good command of his curve ball, in the zone and out of the zone. Saw a lot of swings over curve balls today too, that looked like a strike from a hitters' perspective, and by the time you swing at it it's not. All of those combined are pretty good traits."
Roark's command, presence and aggressive approach combine to make his teammates and coaches comfortable when he takes the mound, Williams explained and his willingness to attack hitters allows him to do what he did today in throwing a complete game shutout.
"When he takes the mound, he feels like he's under control to all of us," Williams said. "There's certainly a trust factor there that he is prepared and he is able to go about it and throw strikes. There's a direct correlation between that and early outs and being able to go deep into a game. But early outs mean that he's pounding the strike zone too and being aggressive. So, you can't get to this point and have a complete game if your pitch count isn't down and he did that today and he showed that to us in the past as well."