Only once in his 99 career minor league starts had Tanner Roark ever tossed a complete game.
He’d never thrown a shutout.
Yet here he was today, on the field at Nationals Park in front of 31,590 fans, delivering the finest outing of his professional career in a 4-0 Nationals win over the Padres.
Roark retired the first 16 hitters he faced today. He allowed just three hits. And he struck out a career-high eight, needing just 105 pitches to finish off the complete game.
“For the first time doing it, it feels really good,” Roark said afterward. “Feels great. Gives you even more confidence hearing the fans out there giving you standing ovation at first and being so loud.”
Roark pounded the zone today, throwing 73 of his 105 pitches for strikes. He got ahead of hitters and went right at them when he was ahead in counts. The result was a lot of quick outs and quick half-innings, allowing the Nats hitters to hop right back into the dugout and take their hacks.
“Me and Sandy (Leon) were on the same page,” Roark said of his communication with his catcher. “I don’t think I shook him off the whole game. Maybe once? But me and Sandy were on the same page and that gives you a lot of confidence out there and gives you, like I said, a rhythm.
“I was working fast. I was trying to just get in the dugout as fast as I can so we could get back up to the plate and get more runs and get more hits. ... Location, I was hitting my spots. And (Leon) was calling great pitches.”
Everyone in the park knew the deal after Roark walked off the mound following the top of the fifth. He’d set down the first 15 hitters he faced today, and took the mound for the top of the sixth with a perfect game still intact, albeit in its early stages.
Did he think about the situation at that point?
“I think every pitcher knows, but I wasn’t trying to think about it at all,” he said. “Just keep going out there and throw strikes. Not trying to make anything perfect, make perfect pitches or anything like that.”
For his big league career, over 19 games (10 starts), Roark has now pitched to a 1.98 ERA and has a 1.04 WHIP. He’s struck out 66 and walked just 20. And he’s now thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings.
The best stretch of his professional career has come not in high Single-A, but in the majors. But Roark is just trying to keep an even keel during his strong run.
“I just feel confident out there on the mound,” he said. “Feel strong. Just getting ahead of hitters is the best thing. Strike one is the best pitch you can throw. So that’s what I try to do.
“(An outing like this) gives me confidence that I can pitch at this level and keep pitching for as long as I can. It’s a good feeling and a good win.”
What’s been the difference for him at this level?
“You’ve got me,” he said with a laugh. “I’m just trying to throw strikes. Not trying to strike anybody out, just trying to get outs.”
Seems to be working so far.