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Nationals' postseason rotation: Tanner Roark vs Gio Gonzalez

Washington Nationals' right-hander Tanner Roark starts against the New York Mets tonight. Gio Gonzalez is scheduled to start tomorrow. Both starters are finishing strong. Matt Williams has a tough decision to make before the start of the NLDS.

Mitchell Layton

Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell made his argument for Washington Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez filling out the Nats' postseason rotation behind Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister (in no particular order) with Tanner Roark going to the bullpen in a late-August chat with readers:

"1) [Roark] was even better out of the pen in '13 than he was starting. So, you assume he can do it. He gives you next extra options for the sixth and seventh inning and for an extra inning game. Like an extra and perhaps even better Stammen. 2) Gio "found" his curve in his last start. He's accustomed to long seasons and >200 IP years. He missed four starts this year so, ideally, he might really be strong in Oct. Same for Fister who still has only 124 IP, not even enough to qualify for the league leaders. Fresh Fister in post-season could be a nice edge. 3) Lots of playoff teams depend on top LH hitters. You may want Gio to start against them."

The WaPost writer went into more detail on the decision, you can read through the link above or HERE.'s Mark Zuckerman, in an article today predicting the Nats' postseason roster today, went with Gonzalez over Roark as well:

"Game 4 goes to Gonzalez over Tanner Roark, who certainly has pitched well enough to merit a starting assignment but whose versatility makes him a better bullpen candidate than Gio, who like Strasburg has pitched very well down the stretch."

After starting the second-half by going (0-4) in eight starts, with a 4.43 ERA, 18 walks (3.80 BB/9), 46 Ks (9.70 K/9) and a .273/.344/.388 line against in 42 ⅔ IP, Gonzalez has impressed in four starts this month, going (3-1) with a 3.16 ERA, three walks (1.05 BB/9), 19 Ks (6.66 K/9) and a .208/.238/.313 line against in 25 ⅔ innings.

"That may be the best that I've seen him since he's been back from his mini-stint with his shoulder issue. But he was really good." -Matt Williams on Gio Gonzalez vs the Marlins

Nats' skipper Matt Williams said Gonzalez's last start, a seven-inning outing against the Miami Marlins in Marlins Park, was the best outing the left-hander has put together since returning from the first DL stint of his career, when inflammation in his left shoulder kept Gonzalez out of action from May 17-June 18.

"I was really pleased with the way Gio threw it," Williams said.

"He could have gone back out [for the eighth], but wanted to make sure that he's ready for his next one as well. He threw really well. Changeup is really good. Curveball is really good. And a good velocity fastball tonight too when he wanted it. So, that may be the best that I've seen him since he's been back from his mini-stint with his shoulder issue. But he was really good."

Roark started the second-half of his second major league campaign by going (4-3) in nine starts from mid-July through the end of August, over which he put up a 2.73 ERA with 12 walks (1.82 BB/9), 39 Ks (5.92 K/9) and a .232/.274/.355 line against over 59 ⅓ IP.

In three September starts, the 27-year-old right-hander is (2-1) with a 2.33 ERA, two walks (0.93 BB/9), 13 Ks (6.05 K/9) and a .250/.270/.347 line against in 19 ⅓ IP.

After dropping a decision to the Phillies in his first start of the month, Roark held the New York Mets to seven hits and two earned runs in 6 ⅓ IP in Citi Field and then threw seven scoreless on the mound against the Atlanta Braves last week in Turner Field, holding the Nats' NL East rivals to five hits in an efficient 89-pitch outing in which the Nationals clinched the NL East.

"He was good," Williams said after the outing against the Mets. "He ran into trouble there in the last inning, but pitch count was really good. He was throwing strikes, forcing them to put the ball in play. Pitched good for us."

"I just felt like I was commanding both side of the plate," Roark told reporters, "letting it go and not holding back and trying to nibble. Just trying to make pitches, not try to make pitches, just trying to go after them, right after them, like I always have."

Neither pitcher is making the decision easy for Williams. Roark makes another start against the Mets tonight in the nation's capital and Gonzalez goes tomorrow in the second game of three with New York in D.C.

Will anything they do in their last two outings change Williams' mind if he's already made a decision?

Is Roark headed to the bullpen. Sounds like a question for a poll...