Sep 18, 2013, 12:13 PM EST
Of all the surprises – both good and bad – of the Nationals’ 2013 season, perhaps the hardest to predict would be the development of rookie pitcher Tanner Roark. A former 25th round pick acquired in a 2010 trade for Cristian Guzman, Roark wasn’t even the Nats’ first choice among minor league starting pitchers this season.
The Nationals went with Nathan Karns and Taylor Jordan before they even gave Roark a look. But now through 12 MLB games and three starts, Roark is earning respect from his teammates and manager, as well as others around the league.
“You get guys coming down to first and talking about how good his stuff is,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “Some really good hitters that are praising him. It says a lot. There’s not a lot of comfortable at-bats against him.”
Roark’s latest installment was a dominant outing against the Braves, seven shutout innings with only two hits and a walk allowed. He was masterful in the Nats’ 4-0 win over Atlanta, owning the strike zone and preventing solid contact from an otherwise potent lineup.
“The pressure’s on you,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “You either have to try to get him early. He’s obviously a guy who produces a lot of ground balls and all of a sudden you can be in the sixth or seventh inning and the guy’s got 70 pitches or you’re taking a lot of strike ones and putting yourself in a hole. So it’s a tough position to be in as a hitter and I can’t say enough about what Tanner did.”
Roark was inserted into the rotation on Sept. 7 as an “opportunity” according to Davey Johnson, not necessarily an audition. But in his three starts since, Roark has done more than enough to make the case he belongs there longterm.
“He’s put his stamp out there for one of the spots in this rotation,” Johnson said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. I mean, that’s not gonna be my decision, but he would get my vote if I’m consulted.”
Johnson even went so far as to compare him to Jordan, who will be another candidate for a rotation spot in spring training. Also a rookie, Jordan was solid through nine starts, going 1-3 with a 3.66 ERA. Johnson, however, stands behind Roark.
“I was comparing him with Taylor Jordan and telling [Steve McCatty], Taylor Jordan’s got maybe the 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. Composure, poise out there is unbelievable. And he competes.”
Roark now holds a 1.08 ERA through 41 2/3 innings on the year. He picked up his seventh win already on Tuesday, his third in three starts. Whether or not Roark is still starting for the Nats next season is unclear, but he’s sure helping them right now as they make a push for the playoffs.
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