Tanner Roark’s amazing run continues

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Tanner Roark was a 25th-round Draft choice who bounced between starting and relieving while posting a 4.21 ERA in his first five Minor League seasons. He entered 2013 at 26 years old and as nobody’s idea of a hot prospect.

Yet somehow, Roark’s big league performance over the past two years has surpassed anything he ever did in the Minors. Sunday afternoon brought the most striking example, as the right-hander dominated the Padres during a three-hit shutout that stood as a perfect game through 5 1/3 innings. That dropped his career ERA to 1.98 through 86 1/3 innings.

A look at Roark by the numbers:

  • 8: Roark’s career-high strikeout total Saturday, including four in the span of five batters at one point.
  • 8 1/3: The most innings Roark had thrown in a professional game at any level before Saturday.
  • 105: Roark’s pitch count, the second-lowest by any pitcher in a shutout this season.
  • 14-to-3: Roark’s ratio of groundouts to flyouts. Entering Saturday, he had more flyouts this year.
  • 23: Batters out of 31 that saw a first-pitch strike from Roark.
  • 1: Earned runs allowed by Roark in 35 career innings at Nats Park, a 0.26 ERA.
  • 7: Number of career starts, out of 10, in which Roark has allowed two runs or fewer.
  • .189: Batting average of right-handed hitters against Roark in his career, with no home runs.
  • 3: Roark’s career high in walks. He had one on Saturday, throwing 69.5% strikes.

The soft-spoken native of Wilmington, Ill., isn’t one to spend too many words examining his own success. Asked after Saturday’s game if knew why his Major League performance has eclipsed his Minor League performance, he smiled and said, “You got me.”

Roark and manager Matt Williams both talked about the importance of Roark’s changeup on Saturday, especially against left-handed batters, who went 0-for-17 with one walk and six strikeouts against him. Roark called it his best pitch of the day, over his fastball, slider and curve.

“He’s aggressive,” Williams said. “He threw a lot of really good changeups today for strikes and that’s one of his weapons. He keeps lefties off balance with that. Comeback fastball into the lefties as well.”

That comeback, or two-seam, fastball is important as well. Roark said he’s talked with Livan Hernandez about the way Greg Maddux used to use that pitch to tail back over the inside corner against left-handed batters.

“You see guys jumping out the way because they think it’s going to hit them and it goes right across the plate,” Roark said. “It’s a very effective pitch. The biggest thing for me is I’ve got to stay on the pitch as long as I possibly can and not come out of it.”

How long Roark can stay on his current run of big league success remains to be seen — some regression is inevitable. But at the least, he seems to have solidified his place in a rotation spot he didn’t lock up until Doug Fister went on the disabled list at the end of Spring Training.

“When he takes the mound, it feels like he’s under control to all of us,” Williams said. “There’s definitely a trust factor there.”

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

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