“I mean, the beginning of the season I was doing really good and felt great,” Tanner Roark said in a late August interview, after he bounced back from a rough stretch of mid-season starts.
“And then there was a span of like six or seven starts where I planted a seed in my head and it branched out to even more things, and once you do that it kind of puts you in no-man’s land, and you’re not even thinking about throwing strikes, you’re thinking about other things you’re doing and trying to do, so after I got over that one — that spell — I just basically said, ‘Screw it,’ and trust my stuff and attack guys like I know I can and have the confidence in myself to do that.”
Over his first 13 appearances last season, Roark was (3-6) with a 3.56 ERA, 25 walks, 65 Ks, and a .216/.289/.375 line against in 78 1⁄3 innings pitched, but in the aforementioned rough stretch that followed, the recently-turned 32-year-old starter went (0-6) over seven starts, with a 7.68 ERA, 18 walks, 33 Ks, and a .364/.436/.539 line against in 36 1⁄3 innings.
Roark snapped that winless streak in his first outing after the All-Star Break, tossing eight scoreless against the Milwaukee Brewers in which he struck out 11 of 28 batters to earn a win which started a six-outing unbeaten streak over which he went (5-0) with a 1.63 ERA, five walks, 29 Ks, and a .206/.236/.270 line against in 38 2⁄3 IP.
“I think more than anything I think Tanner got back to who he was,” Matt Wieters explained in late August, after a rain-shortened, three-inning outing for Roark against the Philadelphia Phillies in D.C.
“He got back to being a sinker ball guy. I think early in the year Tanner almost got himself in trouble because he does have four good pitches and he was trying to use them all the time, and I think lately he’s been able to make it a little bit easier on himself by just trusting his sinker and trusting that the ground balls for outs are sometimes a little bit easier than trying to use all four pitches throughout the course of an at bat.
“The hitters will always tell you how good your sinker is, and Tanner can throw a 2-0 sinker and get a ground ball out of it, which means it’s a pretty good one.”
“He’s an experienced catcher,” Roark said of Wieters.
“He’s helped me out a lot. I was throwing my bullpen in Pittsburgh, and he was talking to me like — I wasn’t using my fastball at the time as much, and so now we started to use the fastball a lot more, and have the hitters make a decision if it’s going to be a strike or a ball in a split-second, or it’s going to be a four-seamer, two-seamer or a changeup, so it’s just the more I play off my fastball, the better my other stuff is, my secondary stuff is.”
Down the stretch, Roark was up and down again, going (1-3) in six outings with a 5.40 ERA, two walks, 20 Ks, and a .295/.306/.533 line against in 30 IP.
Roark finished the season (9-15) in 31 games (30 starts), with a 4.34 ERA, 50 walks, 146 Ks, and a .262/.319/.422 line against in 180 1⁄3 IP.
“I look at his numbers and see a lot better pitcher than what the numbers show,” Braves’ skipper Brian Snitker told reporters after Roark made his final start of 2018 against Atlanta.
“I’ve admired him from afar, the player that he is and how he competes and what he does.”
“He pitches. He’s a competitor. He never gives in,” Snitker added.
Roark avoided arbitration and agreed on a 1-year/$6.475M deal with the Nationals last winter, and he’s arbitration-eligible again this year, and due (in MLBTraderumors.com’s projections) to get a raise to around $9.88M for 2019.
As of now, he’s lined up as essentially the No. 3 starter in the Nationals’ rotation behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, with Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Jefry Rodriguez and others in the mix for the fourth and fifth spots.
What can the Nationals expect from Roark though, after he went from (16-10) with a 2.83 ERA and 3.79 FIP in 34 games and 210 IP in a 3.3 fWAR campaign in 2016 to (13-11) with a 4.67 ERA and 4.13 FIP in 32 games and 181 1⁄3 IP in a 2.5 fWAR campaign in 2017 to a (9-15) record, with a 4.34 ERA and 4.27 FIP in a 1.9 fWAR campaign last season?
Do the Nats need to add a starter (or two) to push Roark back into the 4th or 5th starter role and allow them to continue to develop Ross, Fedde, and Rodriguez as more of back-end of the rotation arms until they prove themselves?