Coming off a 3.1 fWAR campaign in 2014 in which he went (15-10) with a 2.85 ERA, a 3.47 FIP, 39 walks (1.77 BB/9), 138 Ks (6.25 K/9) and a .236/.281/.351 line against in 31 starts and 198 ⅔ innings pitched, Tanner Roark was moved into a bullpen role when Max Scherzer signed his 7-year/$210M deal with the Washington Nationals.
As a starter last year, in what ended up a -0.2 fWAR season, Roark, 29, was (3-4) in 12 starts and 65 ⅓ innings with a 4.82 ERA, 5.29 FIP, 14 walks (1.93 BB/9), 36 Ks (4.96 K/9) and a .285/.337/.477 line against.
In 45 ⅔ IP as a reliever, the right-hander had a 3.74 ERA, a 3.86 FIP, 12 walks (2.36 BB/9), 34 Ks (6.70 K/9) and a .256/.306/.433 line against.
"I think he's still valuable because he's flexible in that sense," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters in December, when asked if he imagined Roark remaining in one role this season or moving back and forth again.
"With that said we consider him a part of the rotation at this juncture of the offseason."
"[Roark] came out of nowhere a couple of years ago, wins 15 ballgames and then goes and sits on his thumb last year out in the bullpen," new Nationals' pitching coach Mike Maddux told reporters at Nats WinterFest. He said then that he considered Roark a part of the rotation.
"It's his job to lose," Maddux said. "I mean, he's come out of, like I said, nowhere a couple of years ago and won 15 ballgames and then there were some acquisitions and some health -- that there was some resurgence of guys added to the roster last year that kind of knocked him out. But you've got to admire a guy like him, holy cow.
"I mean, talk about the typical blue collar layman that goes out and wins fifteen ballgames and makes a little notch in his belt for him. That's pretty good. Easy to root for, and I'm rooting for him big time."
So will the Nationals make any rotation additions? It's looking less and less likely as the free agents the Nats have been rumored to have interest in (Wei-Yen Chen, Ian Kennedy) have come off the market, though they could, of course trade for a starter if it's something they think they need?
"I like the rotation as it is," Rizzo told reporters on a conference call after the Ben Revere/Drew Storen swap earlier this month.
"We have a very talented, quality starting rotation. We have a lot of depth. I like the roster as we are constructed right now. I don’t see any major needs that we haven’t addressed."
Can Roark just step back into a full-time role as a starter? He talked after his next-to-last outing of the year in September about what it was like moving back and forth between the bullpen and rotation.
"Coming out of the bullpen for an inning or whatever," Roark said, "you feel great all the time, not all the time, but you feel great for the most part and you have a little extra one or two miles per hour to your fastball and of course you see that and it kind of tricks you into, 'Man, I can blow everything by them,' but then you lose your location."
Now-former Nationals' skipper Matt Williams told reporters he thought Roark would be more comfortable once he was back in a full-time starting role after the manager never quite found a bullpen role for the right-hander.
When he started over the last month, Williams said, Roark was able to get more comfortable.
"I think it's a combination of things," he explained. "One, every five days he gets a little more taxed as opposed to an inning or a part of an inning, he gets a little more taxed even though he's up more potentially in the bullpen. So his velocity comes down, but his location gets better because he gets in better rhythm and locates better."
Williams explained that he thought returning to starting on a full-time basis would benefit the starter.
"That's his comfort zone, certainly," Williams said.
"The way we stacked coming out of Spring Training he was unfortunately in the bullpen.
"That's a good thing for our team as a whole, but it doesn't allow him to feel that rhythm as much, when he gets a chance to start he feels it more."
Can Roark move back into the rotation and become a reliable back end starter?
In an MLB Network Radio interview after Scherzer was signed last winter, Rizzo talked about Roark going to the pen in 2015, but eventually returning to the rotation.
"It was really one of the most selfless things that I've ever seen happen in baseball," he said of Roark's reaction to the news he would be the odd man out among the starters.
"This is a guy that could have really made things a little dicey for us with our decision to put him in the bullpen, but he made things smooth and comfortable for everybody and I think he's going to excel in the bullpen. We see his long-term position as a starting pitcher for us, but I think he's going to go to the bullpen and have a lot of success."
His time in the bullpen didn't quite go as planned, will his return to the rotation go better?