With Roark leading the charge, Nats expand division lead

CINCINNATI - I love stories about athletes who seemingly came out of nowhere, players who didn’t break into the pros as heralded, hyped prospects but who worked hard and maximized their ability.

roark-gatorade-shower-sidebar.pngTanner Roark could certainly fit into that group. And his journey over the past few years continues to look cooler with each passing start.

You’ve heard it all by now plenty of times. Roark came to the Nationals as one piece of the Cristian Guzman deal in 2010. He lost 17 games at Triple-A Syracuse in 2012. He wasn’t even in Syracuse’s rotation last June. As I mentioned on last night’s broadcast, he had a friend mention at one point within the last couple years that Roark had been in the minors for a while and asked when he would give up baseball.

Roark didn’t make his big league debut until August 7 of last year at the age of 26. He started in the Nats’ bullpen, then worked his way into the rotation. This spring, he needed to battle for the final spot in the Nats’ starting staff up until the very end of camp.

As of this morning, Roark has 10 wins, leading the Nationals. His 2.82 ERA is the best in the rotation, and ranks 10th in the National League.

His 2.43 ERA since his call-up nearly a year ago is elite-level.

Yeah, I’ve written about it frequently. But Roark’s journey just continues to wow me, and I’m not alone.

“It’s unbelievable, to be honest with you,” center fielder Denard Span said, when asked about Roark’s rise. “You got to give him all the credit in the world. He’s solidified our rotation. We’ve got the big guns, the big names, and they’ve earned a lot of respect. But you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for being at the back end of the rotation and doing what he’s done.”

With yesterday’s win and Atlanta’s loss to the Padres, the Nationals now hold a 2 1/2 game lead in the NL East, their largest edge so far this season.

The Nats have two games remaining with the slumping Reds, who are now 0-7 since the All-Star break, and then play 10 of their next 11 games against sub-.500 division opponents.

Ryan Zimmerman’s hamstring injury in Denver brought spirits down a tad. But the Nationals continue to roll along, with Roark leading the way.

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