Spin Williams believes Roark can challenge for starting spot

Right-hander Tanner Roark made a big splash with the Nationals at the end of the season, and put himself in a good position to contend for starting spot next year.

Question is, is he ready for the long haul? Can he be the fifth starter for the Nationals in 2014?

Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams believes Roark would make an excellent choice.

“Oh, absolutely,” Williams said. “I think he showed you that the last two months of the season. He finally believes in himself. He attacks hitters. He has off-the-chart stuff. He commands the ball well. He has a full pitch mix.

“He does a lot of the little things. He holds runners well. He is fighter on the mound. I think he is going to be a guy who is going to be a big asset to this organization for years to come.”

Two seasons ago, Roark struggled to a 6-17 record in the minor leagues. Roark singled out that moment in his career as the turning point. He had previously never lost more than nine games in a season.

Since that 2012 season, Roark has posted a 16-4 record and 124 strikeouts.

“The biggest thing is that he decided to be more aggressive on the mound and attack hitters as opposed to the so-called nibble, throw to the edges and fall behind in all the counts and do those type of things,” Williams said. “All of a sudden, a light bulb went off to pitch to contact and to attack. He hasn’t looked back since. He has had success.”

Williams said Roark has the ability to never let a tough situation like a couple of men on base and no outs deter him from concentrating on getting three outs.

“He never seemed like he had any problems out there,” Williams said. “He always minimized damage. He had a different mindset on that mound. Sometimes it takes a while for people to get it and he got it.

“The last two months of the season, he was a pretty good major league pitcher.”

Roark went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA in 14 games for the Nationals, including five starts. Then-manager Davey Johnson had said many times he wanted to give Roark the shot at starting. Roark showed he belongs. And now he has a chance to go out and prove it in spring training.

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