One of the most pleasant surprises of 2013 was the emergence of Tanner Roark.
Just one season ago, he was battling in the minors, fighting through a 17-loss campaign. But in 2013, on the recommendation of Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams, manager Davey Johnson was convinced Roark could make a difference at the back end of a rotation that was having a rough go staying consistent. Dan Haren had a difficult first half, allowing too many home runs and starter Ross Detwiler had been out since July 4 with a herniated disc in his back.
But the smooth delivery and constant low pitches from Roark were exactly what the starting rotation needed. And on the final day of 2013, Roark gets the start against Arizona as he showcases himself for 2014.
Roark was 6-7 with a 4.39 ERA for Triple-A Syracuse in 2012. He allowed 47 walks in 147 2/3 innings. Batters were hitting an astounding .281 against him. But 2012 was also the year Roark figured something out about pitching, honing his mental game and finding a way to get back on track.
He battled out of spring training. Johnson noticed Roark and noticed how hard he was trying, maybe too hard, to make the team. But Roark made a positive impression, and Johnson remembered Roark when the Nationals needed him late in the season.
In 2013, Roark was rolling at Syracuse. He went 9-3 with a 3.15 ERA in 105 2/3 innings, allowing only a .217 average against.
He got the call to the Nationals, and made an even bigger splash with his ability to pitch down in the zone with good command, and baffle hitters. He started in the bullpen and surprised hitters. Many thought when he switched to starting that hitters seeing him for the third time in the order would be able to get to him. But Roark was able to play the mental game, something he learned in a rough 2012 season, and make it difficult for hitters to get anything going.
He arrived Sunday with a 7-1 record and a 1.74 ERA in 13 games, with four starts. It is amazing to see, only because very few knew that Roark had this kind of stuff and ability to pitch. But he certainly knew he could do it and now he is proving it on the big stage.
The next step is to finish strong and Roark will have a great opportunity to get a shot at the 25-man roster in 2014, possibly as the Nationals' fifth starter.