As Davey Johnson sat down for his postgame press conference after tonight’s 4-0 Nationals win, a win that wrapped up a doubleheader sweep of the Braves, Johnson asked the question that most Nats fans were probably asking themselves tonight.
“Well, how ‘bout Tanner Roark?” Johnson said with a smile.
Yeah, how ‘bout him? Roark improved to 7-0 with a win tonight after throwing seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and a walk and striking out six.
His ERA as a big leaguer now sits at a ridiculous 1.08 over 41 2/3 innings, this from a 26-year-old getting his first taste of the major leagues.
Tonight, he allowed two hits in the second, then held a potent Braves lineup without a knock over his final five innings of work. He finished having thrown 101 pitches, by far the most he’d tossed as a big leaguer.
“When I hooked him after the seventh inning, he said, ‘You sure? I’m through?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re through,’ ” Johnson said. “I think the most pitches he’d ever thrown before that was 78, but what a great game. He was totally in command pretty much the whole way. Looked like he was kinda sensing the finish line for me, because he was starting to crank to get it up there. But what a great effort.”
So how does a guy who had a 4.39 ERA in Triple-A last season and had never smelled the majors prior to this year suddenly jump onto the scene and start dominating quality big league hitters? How does a guy who scouts might not rave about come up and have so much success despite not really having “wow” pitches?
“Well he’s got good stuff, number one, but he’s got great command,” Johnson said. “He uses both sides of the plate on good hitters, throws that ball in on Freeman, sets up breaking balls. He’s a pitcher. And he’s done that ever since he’s been there. We saw him in the spring, he was a little overthrowing, he was a little wild, trying to impress. But even Spin (Williams, minor league pitching coordinator) gave me good reports on him. Said he was a big league pitcher, and I put a lot into what he says.
“But ever since he’s been here, whether it’s out of the ‘pen or starting, it’s been quality. I mean, I can’t say enough about location. Everybody’s all wrapped up in the velocity, but he pitches 92, 93, 94 (mph). But good curveball, good slider, and location’s outstanding.”
The Nats had a tenuous 1-0 lead after seven, but they got three huge insurance runs in the eighth on a Ryan Zimmerman solo homer and RBI knocks from Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche, giving closer Rafael Soriano a little more breathing room.
Soriano needed it, as he allowed singles to the first two hitters he faced, drawing groans from the 28,369 at Nats Park. Soriano eventually bounced back and closed out a scoreless ninth with the help of a line drive double play off the bat of Evan Gattis.
“Oh, huge,” Johnson said of the insurance runs. “Sori hadn’t pitched in six or seven days, so it was good for him to get work. It was tempting to leave (Craig) Stammen out there, but I need a long man for tomorrow with (Ross Ohlendorf starting). So we can have all our ammunition available to go after them tomorrow.”
The Nats might’ve swept both games of the doubleheader with Atlanta today, preventing the Braves from clinching the division title here in D.C., but unfortunately for Johnson’s bunch, they won’t end up gaining much ground on the Reds, even with today’s strong showing.
Cincinnati just finished off its second straight win over the Astros, this one by a 10-1 score, leaving the Nats still 4 1/2 games back of the final NL wild card spot with 11 games to play. Still, Johnson feels today’s results here at Nats Park were important for a few reasons.
“Well I think it sends a good message over to Atlanta that we’re not going anywhere,” Johnson said. “We struggled a little bit early, but we’re certainly a capable ball club and we’ve got the talent to compete with anybody. ...
“There’s so much of the season left. Cinci’s got Pittsburgh (for) six games, we’ve got an arguably pretty tough schedule after the Marlins come in. I said before, we need to win about 90 games. If we win 90 games, I think we got a dang good shot of getting in there.”