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Nationals' Reliever Tanner Roark: Pride Of Wilmington, IL Becoming D.C. Favorite

Right-hander Tanner Roark turned in another strong performance last night in Kansas City, providing some desperately needed and well-pitched innings in relief after Washington Nationals' starter Gio Gonzalez had a rough outing against the Royals.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Davey Johnson sent Tanner Roark out for a second inning of work in this past Wednesday's 11-6 win over the Chicago Cubs in spite of the fact that the 26-year-old right-hander gave up four straight singles after replacing Ross Ohlendorf in the fifth inning of what was then a 6-3 game in Washington's favor. The Cubs' second single off Roark drove in a run to make it 6-4. The fourth made it 6-5 and a sac fly tied it up at 6-6 after the Nationals had jumped out to a 6-1 lead early in the third game of the Nats' recently-completed four-game set in Wrigley Field. After needing 23 pitches to record two outs in the fifth, Roark came back out and threw a 14-pitch, 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth inning.

"He has such good command and he has good stuff. He's a major league pitcher." - Davey Johnson on Tanner Roark on Friday

When the Nationals took a 9-6 lead on a three-run home run by Scott Hairston in the top of the seventh, Roark was the pitcher of record. When the Nats beat the Cubs 11-6, Roark earned his third win in five major league appearances following the one-time Texas Rangers' prospect's MLB debut on August 7th. Davey Johnson talked to reporters after the win about how quickly Ohlendorf got tired and how Roark struggled upon entering the game.

"[Ross] Ohlendorf was pitching real good," Johnson explained, "and he kind of ran out of gas just like he was done. And then Roark giving up five straight hits or something like that? I knew that wasn't going to happen again, that's why I sent him back out. I knew the chances were he would pitch a lot better the next time."

"I just talked to Roark, who pitched a couple of innings last night, and he said, 'I'm raring to go tomorrow...'" - Davey Johnson on Tanner Roark offering to help bullpen

Thursday afternoon, it looked like a beleaguered Nats' bullpen would finally get a rest as Stephen Strasburg cruised through seven scoreless, gave up a run on a solo home run in the eighth that made it 4-1 and then came back out for the ninth looking for his second career complete game. A run on an error and a game-tying blast by Donnie Murphy forced Davey Johnson to go to his pen, however, and he ended up having to use Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Drew Storen before the Nationals finally won the game 5-4 in 13 innings.

"It stressed our bullpen out," Johnson said after the win, but one of his relievers told the skipper that even though he'd thrown 37 pitches in 1 2/3 the previous night he'd be available on Friday if needed. "I just talked to Roark, who pitched a couple of innings last night, and he said, 'I'm raring to go tomorrow,' so, normally I wouldn't do that after a guy pitches two innings, but we're in dire straits."

Things went from bad to worse Friday night in Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium when Gio Gonzalez struggled early and didn't seem to have it, giving up nine hits, three walks and seven runs, six earned in 3 1/3 IP. The Nationals battled back from a 6-1 deficit to take an 8-6 lead after three and a half, but a single by Alex Gordon, a walk to Eric Hosmer and an RBI hit by Salvador Perez to made it 8-7 Nats and ended the left-handed starter's night.

Johnson turned to Tanner Roark and the right-hander got a double play grounder out of the first batter he faced, Justin Maxell, getting the Nationals out of the fourth and he then proceeded to throw 4 2/3 scoreless to get the game to the Nationals' closer for the night, Drew Storen, and his replacement, Rafael Soriano, who both struggled to throw strikes and nearly cost Roark what ended up being his fourth win (4-0) in six major league outings. After the 11-10 win over the Royals, Johnson was effusive in his praise of the effort Roark gave the Nationals.

"Roark saved our bullpen," Johnson said, "that was a big day. The bullpen is going to be back okay tomorrow and we'll go from there." The Nats' skipper had commented previously that he and pitching coach Steve McCatty wondered after Roark struggled coming on in relief of Ohlendorf mid-inning, if he was another pitcher who was better off starting innings than being called in with runners on, but Johnson dismissed that notion last night.

"No. He hits his spots, he has such good command and he has good stuff," the Nationals' manager said. "He's a major league pitcher. He made it look easy. What did he give up? One hit? I don't think he walked anybody. But coming back, I mean, that was his throw day, but he had 37 pitches on his off day and then throwing almost 60 pitches, that was an outstanding effort." Roark did walk one batter actually, but that was it.

In 16 1/3 IP so far in the majors, the right-hander has walked just two (1.10 BB/9) and struck out 12 (6.61 K/9) while posting a 1.10 ERA and a 1.93 FIP in his first six major league outings and that's after 33 games, 11 of them starts, at Triple-A Syracuse before he was called up, over which he had a 3.15 ERA, a 3.00 FIP, 20 walks (1.70 BB/9), 84 Ks (6.61 K/9) and just six home runs (0.51 HR/9) allowed. So far, the Rangers' 2008 25th Round pick, acquired in the July 2010 that sent Cristian Guzman to Texas, has made the most of his first opportunity to pitch at the major league level after six years and 667 2/3 innings pitched in his minor league career.