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Davey Johnson on Nationals' Rotation Candidates Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan

It's Matt Williams who will have to make the tough decision on which pitcher ends up in the fifth spot in the rotation at the start of the 2014 campaign, but former Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson discussed the two main options late last season...

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

It's not that Davey Johnson wasn't impressed with Taylor Jordan.

Towards the end of the now-25-year-old right-hander's sort of out-of-nowhere 2013 campaign, the now-former Washington Nationals' manager praised the hard work the '09 9th Round pick did on his way up and in the majors.

"I like all his pitches," Johnson said in August, after what ended up being Jordan's next-to-last start of the season.

"I don't think he knows how good his stuff is yet. He relies a lot on the catcher about where to go to and he doesn't think about the count." - Davey Johnson on Taylor Jordan, Aug 2012

"I don't think he knows how good his stuff is yet. He relies a lot on the catcher about where to go to and he doesn't think about the count. Sometimes he goes to throw hard instead of just locate with that good sink and when he gets in that good rhythm... "

"He's got a great arsenal," Johnson continued. "I really like his weapons."

The 6'3'' right-hander started his first full season back from Tommy John surgery in 2011 at High-A Potomac last summer, going (2-1) with a 1.24 ERA, 2.46 FIP, six walks (1.49 BB/9) and 29 Ks (7.18 K/9) in 36 1/3 IP. He was then promoted Double-A Harrisburg where he was (7-0) with a 0.83 ERA, 2.39 FIP, nine walks (1.50 BB/9) and 43 Ks (7.17 K/9) in 54 IP before he was called up the majors.

In nine major league outings, Jordan was (1-3) with a 3.66 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, 11 walks (1.92 BB/9) and 29 Ks (5.05 K/9) in 51 2/3 IP. He finished his first run in the big leagues at +0.7 fWAR.

In 142 total innings on the mound last season, Jordan allowed just four home runs total (0.25 HR/9), one in 90 1/3 IP in the minors and three in the majors. Jordan finished (9-1) with a combined 1.00 ERA in 15 games (14 of them starts) in the Nats' system, earning recognition as the Nationals' 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

"He has sped through the system and there's a reason for that: He's really good, a really good pitcher." - Matt Williams talking about Taylor Jordan

In weighing the contenders for the fifth spot in the 2014 rotation, the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell wrote earlier this spring that the Nationals' staff, "... loves Taylor Jordan's stuff, goofy motion that adds deception and his ability to 'sit' at 91-92-93, then reach back for 96 when he needs it." He has, "[a lot] of movement on his fastball/sinker," Boswell, continued, before adding that though fans in the nation's capital remember Jordan's run with the Nats, the, "... front office also remembers his 9-1 [record and] 1.00 ERA in 90.1 innings in A+ and AA."

Matt Williams, Davey Johnson's successor on the bench in the nation's capital, talked about how impressed he was with Jordan's stuff early in Spring Training.

"He's got mid-90's fastball and movement," Williams said. "Good changeup. Breaking ball for strikes. I've been really impressed with what I've seen. It's electric stuff out of the hand."

"He's got mid-90's fastball and movement. Good changeup. Breaking ball for strikes. I've been really impressed with what I've seen. It's electric stuff out of the hand." - Matt Williams on Taylor Jordan, Spring Training 2013

While acknowledging the Nationals' fondness for Jordan's stuff and mentioning a month before the Nats' new skipper made the decision this week to move Ross Detwiler to a relief role, that the Nationals, "... know that Detwiler has had success out of bullpen," and, "... would give them another lefty out there," while also pointing out that, "It almost works against [Detwiler] that he has proven he's versatile," the WaPost reporter cautioned against underestimating Tanner Roark, Jordan's main competition for the final rotation spot behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister.

Roark, the WaPost columnist wrote, "... really seemed to 'find it' last year."

In his sixth minor league season, the 26-year-old right-hander, who turned 27 in October, was (9-3) with a 3.15 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 20 walks (1.70 BB/9) and six home runs (0.51 HR/9) allowed in 33 games, 11 starts and 105 2/3 IP at Triple-A Syracuse in which he collected 84 Ks (7.15 K/9).

In 14 games, five as a starter, in the majors, Roark was worth +1.4 fWAR, going (7-1) with a 1.51 ERA, 2.41 FIP, one HR (0.17 HR/9) and 11 walks (1.84 BB/9) allowed and 40 Ks (6.71 K/9) collected in 53 2/3 IP.

"If he has that level of (remarkable) command and ability not to miss in the middle of the strike zone," Boswell wrote, "he'll continue to have success over and above his apparent stuff."

In discussing Roark's success late last season, Davey Johnson expressed similar sentiments.

"He's got good stuff, no.1," Johnson told reporters. "But he's got great command. He uses both sides on good hitters... Sets up breaking balls. He's a pitcher. And he's done that ever since he's been here."

"Ever since he's been here, whether it's out of the pen or starting, it's been quality," Johnson continued. "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."

Long before the battle for the fifth spot in the 2014 rotation came down to either Roark or Jordan (or RHP Chris Young according to Williams), Johnson offered his own take.

"I was comparing him with Taylor Jordan," Johnson explained, "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.'"

Johnson, of course, won't be making the decision this year. It will be up to Williams, who already made one tough decision by shifting Detwiler from the rotation back to the bullpen. Will Roark's poise and command lead to the Nats' new manager giving him the nod? Will his success in both the rotation and bullpen lead to him beginning the season as a reliever?

Will the fact the Taylor Jordan rose through the ranks so quickly last season and never pitched at Triple-A make it easier for Williams to justify sending him out for more work in the minors knowing he can bring him right back if necessary?

Williams has already made one tough rotation/bullpen choice this spring, but it's nothing but more difficult decisions going forward...