Nationals' starter Tanner Roark closes out first-half, continues to confound hitters, doubters

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

"Tanner Roark is an extremely good story for scouting and player development," Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo explained in an MLB Network Radio interview in May. The 27-year-old right-hander continues to confound hitters and doubters...

In a late-May interview on MLB Network Radio, Washington Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo talked about the development of 27-year-old right-hander Tanner Roark since the July 2010 trade with the Texas Rangers that brought him to the Nats as an organizational success story.

"Tanner Roark is an extremely good story for scouting and player development," Rizzo said.

"His command has really separated him from the pack in our organization and he's a guy that can really pitch to four quadrants of the plate with four pitches..." -Mike Rizzo on Nats' starter Tanner Roark

"Our professional scouts, Jay Robertson in particular, and our scouting department identified him in a trade that we made a while back. It was a low-level trade with Cristian Guzman and got ourselves two good arms that we really liked and player development has really allowed this kid to step to the next level. He's a very confident pitcher on the mound. He's got four good pitches. He's not a soft-tossing, command-only guy. He can run it up to 94-95 if he has to. He pitches at 90-92, 93 with his sinker, but his command has really separated him from the pack in our organization and he's a guy that can really pitch to four quadrants of the plate with four pitches and on any given day can really go out there and handcuff some good-hitting ballclubs."

"He's been a great story for us and a really good scouting and player development story in general."

After he was acquired from the Rangers' minor league system, Roark finished the 2010 season with six starts at Double-A Harrisburg then returned to the Senators in 2011, going (9-9) with a 4.69 ERA, a 4.09 FIP, 39 walks (3.00 BB/9) and 92 Ks (7.08 K/9) in 21 starts and 117 IP in his first full-season in the Nationals' organization.

It was during the 2012 campaign that a then-25-year-old Roark says he finally figured things out.

Pitching with the Nationals' top affiliate at Triple-A Syracuse, he was (6-17) with a 4.39 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 47 walks (2.86 BB/9) and 130 Ks (7.92 K/9) in 28 games, 26 starts and 147 ⅔ IP, when he experienced what he described this past winter as a sort of personal revelation.


"I wasn't doing so well," Roark admitted.

"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."

"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..." -Tanner Roark on turning it around on the mound in 2012

What Roark did during the 2013 campaign was work his way up from the Triple-A to the majors and put himself in a position for a spot in one of the strongest rotations in baseball.

Working as a starter and reliever with the Chiefs, he was (9-3) with two saves, a 3.15 ERA, a 3.01 FIP, 20 walks (1.70 BB/9) and 84 Ks (7.15 K/9) in 33 games, 11 starts and 105 ⅔ IP.

Called up to make his MLB debut in August, the '08 Rangers' 25th Round pick was (7-1) with a 1.51 ERA, a 2.41 FIP, 11 walks (1.84 BB/9) and 40 Ks (6.71 K/9) in 14 games, five starts and 53 ⅔ IP.

Roark and right-hander Taylor Jordan, who debuted in the majors in 2014 as well, entered the 2014 season as contenders for the fifth spot in the Nationals' rotation and both began the year in Washington when Doug Fister suffered a lat strain in Spring Training.

After Roark earned a win on Sunday in Citizens Bank Park in the series and first-half finale against the Philadelphia Phillies, the now-27-year-old righty earned his eighth win of the season with seven innings of work in which he gave up four hits and one earned run while striking out six, improving to (8-6) in 18 starts, over which he has put up a 3.01 ERA, a 3.35 FIP, 25 walks (1.98 BB/9) and 85 Ks (6.73 K/9) in 113 ⅔ IP.

"Not as many curveballs again today as normal," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said after the start, noting that once again it was Roark's command that led to his success.

"He established fastball early, first time around the lineup, both sides of the plate and was able to throw it wherever he wanted to today. It was a little heavy day out there today, muggy and not a whole lot of wind down on the field anyway, and so it was hot. He threw his changeup later, used his curveball occasionally and worked his way through the lineup."

Through 32 major league appearances, Roark is now (15-7) with a 2.53 ERA, a 3.05 FIP, 25 walks (1.94 BB/9) and 85 Ks (6.73 K/9) in 167 ⅔ IP.

Among NL pitchers with at least 160 IP in 2013-14, Roark has the fifth-lowest ERA, behind only the Reds' Johnny Cueto (2.33), the Mets' Matt Harvey (2.27), the Marlins' Jose Fernandez (2.25) and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (1.81). Not bad for a 25th Round pick and a "low-level" acquisition.

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