May 5, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
In his relatively short MLB career, Tanner Roark has already gone from afterthought prospect to surprise bullpen contributor to a 15-win starter and now back to relieving, somehow finding success at each stop. The former 25th round pick who lost 17 games at Triple-A the year before he debuted has become a baseball renaissance man. Ask him to do just about anything and he will do it well.
But before Monday night, there was one thing Roark had not done. He’s been excellent in middle relief, long relief, setup situations and as a starter, so what about closing? Sure, why not.
Roark finally got the opportunity to save a game in the Nationals’ 6-4 win over the Marlins on Monday night due to closer Drew Storen being unavailable. Storen had pitched on consecutive nights, so Matt Williams needed somebody to step in.
Rookie Sammy Solis was also warming up in the bullpen when the phone rang, but Roark’s name was called.
“He’s been in big moments, been in big games, it doesn’t matter to him which inning it is. It’s about getting outs,” Williams said.
Roark had last saved a game on June 7, 2013 with Triple-A Syracuse. Roark doesn’t even remember getting the save that day, so this all felt very new to him.
“I was definitely amped up big-time,” he said. “Especially since we tied the game and went ahead. I was just even more amped up and ready to get out there. It was an adrenaline rush.”
Despite allowing a one-out single to Dee Gordon, Roark shut the door on the Marlins and punctuated his outing with a swinging strikeout against feared slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton came to the plate with two outs and Gordon on second. He gets a hold of one, it could tie the game.
“He’s a great hitter,” Roark said. “I was trying to make him chase my pitches and it worked out that way. I’m just grateful for that. I’m glad we came out on top in a huge win.”
Roark started the count with three balls before firing three consecutive strikes. The first caught Stanton looking and the final two got him swinging on balls that crossed the outside of the plate.
“He got behind him. Gave him a 3-0 fastball that he took, then two really good sliders,” Williams said. “It’s never comfortable when he stands at the plate, but Tanner made some good pitches tonight.”
With how good Roark has been since debuting in August of 2013, him going out and earning a save like he’s done it before came as no surprise to his teammates and manager.
“Any role you put him in, he kinda thrives it seems like. He’s definitely an asset to our team and it’s fun to watch him get better and better each time he goes out there,” Ian Desmond said.
“It’s a testament to his attitude and his work ethic. He’s excited to pitch, whenever that is. Whether that’s starting a game, whether that’s in the sixth inning, whether that’s closing a game,” Williams explained.
“Circumstances dictate sometimes that there are different roles for guys, and he’s the perfect mentality to put in that role, because it doesn’t much matter to him. It’s about three outs and that’s all.”
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