PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Today will mark Tanner Roark's fourth, and final, spring training start. This will be his last chance to make an impression on manager Matt Williams and the Nationals' decision-makers before the last spot in the rotation is decided.
Williams has mentioned Roark, Taylor Jordan and Chris Young as the three options for the job, although it's widely assumed that Roark and Jordan are the two legitimate final candidates.
As long as he makes it out of today's start healthy, however, there probably isn't much that Roark will show Williams that will determine whether he gets the final rotation spot. He could light it up today, or he could get hit around a bit, and it won't matter much.
Same goes for Jordan when he starts tomorrow against the Marlins. In essence, Williams has already made his decision, he just hasn't announced it yet.
"I wouldn't anticipate there's a whole lot that they can do from a performance standpoint that would sway either way," Williams said. "But, again, we want to get him through it healthy. That's what we want. Everybody has been shocked this spring with how many pitchers have gone down (around the league). The concern for us with both of them is to get them through their last one healthy. Then we can make a conscious decision in that regard. That's what we're looking at right now. ...
"They both bring fantastic opportunity for our club. There's track record on both sides. There's major league experience for both of them. We're going to have to make the decision that we feel is best for the club and see how it goes."
Roark has pitched to a 4.50 ERA over eight spring innings, with four strikeouts and two walks. Jordan has pitched to a 4.80 ERA over 15 innings this spring, with 18 strikeouts and one walk.
Williams said he would like to make his final round of roster cuts before the Nationals head back to D.C. for their exhibition game against the Tigers on Saturday. The Nats' final Grapefruit League game is here in Port St. Lucie on Thursday, and while things might change, Williams hopes to have his 25-man roster settled before going north.
"We're taking a final look at guys from a position player standpoint, from a bench standpoint," Williams said. "It may have to wait. But that's a good thing. These are guys that are competing, and they're making it a tough decision."
Typically on spring road trips, teams send the major league players that are going to be appearing in the game, and leave the rest of the big leaguers back at their facility to participate in morning drills on their own. Today, the Nats brought pretty much every big leaguer, except for the other starting pitchers and guys that are ill or need medical treatment.
Why are they doing that? Why are, say, Rafael Soriano and Craig Stammen on this trip if they're not going to be pitching?
"We're a team. It's important," Williams said. "It's important for us to travel as a team. It's important for us to be a team. There's going to be adjustments in the next few days. We've got some guys going to the minor league camp to get some at-bats. But today is a good day to have everybody here. Regardless of whether they're going to pitch or not.
"This is the team we're going to play first. Any chance we get later in spring training to take a look at them - their starters, their offensive players, how they go about their business - is going to do nothing but benefit us."
Makes sense to me.