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Roark won’t make excuses for disappointing season

Sep 18, 2015, 12:02 AM EDT

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There was no bigger feel-good story on the Nationals’ 2014 roster than Tanner Roark, a 25th-round draft pick given a rare opportunity to start for a division champion who then made the most of it, endearing himself to teammates and fans alike.

Very little about Roark’s 2015 season has felt good. Not his performance as a starter. Not his performance as a reliever. Not his shuffling back and forth between those roles.

Another chapter was added to the story Thursday night, when Roark was roughed up for six runs in five innings during the Nationals’ 6-4 loss to the Marlins. It was his ninth start of the season, the fifth time he’s been unable to reach the sixth inning, the third time he has allowed five or more earned runs.

And it provided another opportunity for Roark to blame his ragged season on his ever-changing role, one that has rarely allowed him to establish a regular routine. The right-hander, though, refuses to do that.

“It’s been a crazy year; I’m not gonna lie,” he said. “But you can’t put blame on anybody but myself. It’s my job, whenever my name is called, to go out there and get outs. You can’t make excuses. … I’m not one for making excuses and I never will. Ultimately, it’s me out there on the mound, and I have control of the game.”

There is a certain nobility in Roark’s response, in refusing to attribute his struggles to the situation in which he was placed. Make no mistake, though: He hasn’t been dealt a great hand, forced to make constant adjustments along the way, his fate dependent upon the status of others.

All this after a breakthrough season in which Roark won 15 games while posting a 2.85 ERA, numbers that would normally leave him a lock to make the following year’s rotation. But when the Nationals surprised everyone by signing Max Scherzer to a $210 million mega-deal, Roark became the odd man out.

He opened the season in the bullpen as a long-relief option for manager Matt Williams. But when the back end of the Nationals’ pen suffered from injuries and inexperience, Roark found himself for awhile pitching in high-leverage, 1-inning stints.

All along, the Nationals suggested he would be the first man called upon if one of their starters went down. But then Joe Ross emerged as one of the best rookie starters in baseball, and so Roark again was pushed out to the margins of the staff … until Ross reached his innings limit for the season, resulting in Roark’s brief demotion to the minors to build his arm back up before rejoining the big-league rotation for the final stretch.

It hasn’t gone particularly well. Roark has now made three starts since replacing Ross, and he hasn’t yet made it past the fifth inning. Overall, he owns a 5.66 ERA in nine games as a starter this year.

“He’s been used in a bunch of different ways this year, and that’s not easy,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “But I don’t think he’ll be the one making an excuse about it, so I’m not going to make an excuse for him. He wants to compete, and he did that tonight. Obviously he didn’t get the results he wanted, but he gave us a chance.”

Perhaps the biggest difference between Roark circa 2014 and Roark circa 2015 has been his penchant for serving up home runs. He allowed only 16 in 198 2/3 innings last season. He has now allowed 14 in only 93 1/3 innings this season.

Roark attributes that discrepancy to pitches left up in the zone.

“Most of the time, balls that are up at the waist … these are big-league hitters, they know how to hit these balls,” he said. “They go far.”

There are three more turns through the rotation before the season ends. For now, Roark is lined up to make all of those starts. If the Nationals are eliminated before then, though, it’s possible Williams could decide to give A.J. Cole or Taylor Jordan an opportunity to step in.

Regardless, Roark figures to have the opportunity to make the Nationals’ rotation in 2016, with two spots likely opening following the expected departures of free agents Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister.

Until then, he’ll try to make the most of these final opportunities, grateful at least to know he’ll be starting every fifth day at the end of a season that featured very little routine.

“For me, since bouncing back and forth, spot-starting here and there, you get into a rhythm,” he said. “You have a couple starts, and you learn from the previous start. You work your butt off to the next start, and then you just build off each start, keep getting higher and higher and higher. Even though that’s the best I felt tonight, the results weren’t what I’d like. But you can build off that.”

  1. senators5 - Sep 18, 2015 at 12:24 AM

    It is what it is…location, location and, of course, location. And that pretty much locates the root of the problem for far too many Nats pitchers this season.

  2. bababooeytoyouall - Sep 18, 2015 at 7:44 AM

    I like Roak (though I wish he’d sign autographs for fans before games a few times). He’s been totally jerked around by people above his pay grade so I don’t really blame his 2015 on him. But honestly, the #Nats should have recognized that they don’t have a swing man (after all, Matt Williams talks about pitcher and their “roles” so often that the manager should have a clue).

    When they decided that Roark couldn’t be a starter, then his value was best as a trade chip before the season started. Unless they think there’s a real shot he’ll make the rotation either (1) trade him in the off-season or (2) send him to Syracuse (provided he has options left) to be a starter all year so he can be a spot starter. The 2nd option is kind of a waste but it’s better than jerking him between starter, long relief, and short relief.

    • Guapo - Sep 18, 2015 at 9:22 AM

      100% agree. I’ll make the excuse for him. He was the victim of some poor decision making. He’d earned a spot in the rotation and should have been in it from day 1. Hard to settle in to any rhythm for him this year.

      and fa-fa-flo-hi to you, sir.

      • jfmii - Sep 18, 2015 at 9:49 AM

        Guapo, given the circumstances in April, what are you suggesting? A six-person rotation?

      • Guapo - Sep 18, 2015 at 11:33 AM

        I would have preferred Rizzo move a starter to another club and gotten some value for it in return. The club had six viable starters and the GMs job should be to extract maximum value out of the roster. Roark should have started somehwere this year, either here or with another club.

      • Andrew - Sep 18, 2015 at 12:15 PM

        Six viable starters isn’t enough. Ideally you’d have something like 8-10 between the Bigs and players in the minor leagues you’d be willing to call up immediately, because lack of pitching depth kills you when the injury bug hits, as it inevitably does with pitchers. But ironically it was injuries to position players that plagued the Nats this year, more than the pitchers.

      • Guapo - Sep 18, 2015 at 1:20 PM

        You need a full and deep roster to compete. That means maximizing the full value of your player personnel. The Nats took a 31 game starter who pitched nearly 200 innings with a 2.85 ERA and made him essentially invisible. That’s poor roster management. Options could have been

        – Trade Roark. His value was sky high.
        – Trade someone else on the staff – JZim, Fister, etc.
        – Not sign Scherzer, since you already had a strong starting staff and address needs elsewhere (i.e. bullpen)

    • veejh - Sep 18, 2015 at 10:20 AM

      The thought of trading a reliable starting pitcher who put up ridiculous numbers as a rookie with years of team control for minimum salary is absurd. If we only had a crystal ball.

      • bababooeytoyouall - Sep 18, 2015 at 11:56 AM

        as guapo said, you can’t waste a roster spot with Roark. If u don’t want to trade him, either make him the 5th starter (at the expense of fister, who’s FIP suggested a big slide this year, but then again so did Roarks) or move him to AAA. Hard to think of examples where players have successfully navigated the starter / long-reliever / short reliever / back to starter yo-yo’ing.

    • tcostant - Sep 18, 2015 at 1:37 PM

      He signed my son’s jersey last year. Great guy.

  3. Another_Sam - Sep 18, 2015 at 9:03 AM

    Roark has nothing to regret. He’s a starting pitcher who was in an impossible situation this year. He didn’t have a chance to practice his trade or to learn a new role. I’m fine with what he did. [Note that the last time a guy was designated as a spot starter, they kept John Lannan [remember him?] starting in Syracuse all year between his spot major league starts. And he had a key start in September.

    Have I got this right: Roark’s year last year was by some measures better a better year than any starter has had this year?

    • jfmii - Sep 18, 2015 at 9:51 AM

      I like him as much as the next guy, but he seems to get a free pass every time. All the talk about game 2 of the NLDS and all of the failures, I have never heard a peep about laying some of the blame at the feet of the guy who gave up the winning home run.

      • npb99 - Sep 18, 2015 at 2:48 PM

        We went 9 innings without scoring in that extra innings fiasco. It was inevitable that some pitcher would eventually give up a run. Blame our hitters, especially all our veterans who stunk it up last October.

      • jfmii - Sep 18, 2015 at 3:15 PM

        None of the other Nationals’ pitchers gave up a run from innings 10-18. Love what Roark did last year. He was our darling last year, so no one wanted to lay any blame on him for giving up the winning run. Who knows what happens in the 19th if he does not give up that home run.

  4. trfwans - Sep 18, 2015 at 9:16 AM

    Let’s not get carried away building Roark up into something he’s not. This is a guy who lost 17 games in the minors as recently as 2012. Then he was brought up in 2013 in a mixed starter-reliever role and did well, so they made him a starter in 2014 and he had what was probably a career year. This year he has regressed back to his mean. He’s the Danny Espinosa of pitchers.

    • jfmii - Sep 18, 2015 at 9:54 AM

      Please explain further how Espinosa fits–I don’t get the connection

    • Hiram Hover - Sep 18, 2015 at 9:57 AM


      It’s to Roark’s credit that isn’t making excuses about getting jerked around from BP to rotation. Others are doing it for him, but sorry–I don’t buy it.

      Back in 2013, his flexibility was precisely what folks praised about him. In the minors that year, he had been both a starter and a reliever, and then he was called up, and did both, and did them well.

      Maybe he is just a mediocre pitcher whose lucky stretch has come to an end–there were warning signs in his peripherals last year, for sure. Maybe he’s just gotten unlucky on the HRs and that will come back down. Maybe there’s something else altogether that needs to be fixed.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 18, 2015 at 10:31 AM

      I agree that we shouldn’t assume that Tanner Roark’s 2014 season was his norm. But nor do I think you can point to 2015 and suggest that it’s a regression to his mean simply because he had the one awful year (not just on W-L record) in Syracuse in 2012. His future is still very much TBD.

      • veejh - Sep 18, 2015 at 10:35 AM

        Agree. He will bounce back once given a consistent role.

    • bababooeytoyouall - Sep 18, 2015 at 11:59 AM

      this is true. I’m surprised that before making comments I didn’t look at his ERA and FIP, which shows that his 2013 and 2014 were rather luck and that he was do to regress some in 2015. I still think he got a raw deal and was mishandled. The place for him to fail was as a starter, not as a guy who gets yo-yo’ed around.

  5. Drew - Sep 18, 2015 at 11:09 AM

    Tanner still has a better career ERA than Strasburg or Scherzer.

    • jfmii - Sep 18, 2015 at 11:25 AM

      Hope you are not drawing any conclusions from that statement, Drew

  6. JamesFan - Sep 18, 2015 at 11:24 AM

    Roark has been completely mishandled this year. Handling people is the key to leadership. If they were going to dump a 15 game winner, they should have traded him. Likewise, Storen. If I were their agents, I would demand out of the Nats over the winter.

    We have to ask if the Nats season have been better if they had not over-paid for Scherzer? Scherzer is an anchor around the neck of the GM. Only Scherzer can remove it.

    • tcostant - Sep 18, 2015 at 1:41 PM

      I agree – this guy was Greg Maddux light last year, the minute Mad Max was sign Rizzo should have found a trade partner for Fister it Jzimm. Spilt milk…

      • jfmii - Sep 18, 2015 at 3:26 PM

        A lot of folks here and elsewhere (me included) said it would work because he had shown an ability to move back and forth between starting and relieving in 2013. But in 15, he did not perform when he got on the mound. That has little to do with being “mishandled”.

        The way I look at it, Tanner can be lumped in with the other big five in the starting rotation. All but Gio were significantly worse in 15 than they were in 14, Or compare Tanner’s 15 season to his 13 season. There he was moved back and forth by Davey but got the job done in whatever role he was asked to fill.

        ALL of the Nationals’ pitchers, except for Matt Thornton, underperformed in 2015. And, to be fair, some of that underperformance came from lousy defense which is in many ways a function of the injuries.

  7. jfmii - Sep 18, 2015 at 11:27 AM

    Sorry, despite the bad hand dealt to Tanner, and the slight change of role from 9th inning to 8th inning, neither can blame those circumstances on bad performance. Neither should fans.

  8. raleighnat - Sep 18, 2015 at 12:37 PM

    Great guy and one of my favorite Nats. But he sucked this year. He will get a chance to redeem himself next year as he is cheap and could be a really strong back of the rotation starter. But we’ll see. I don’t think he gets traded given free agent exodus.

  9. jfmii - Sep 18, 2015 at 3:33 PM

    He was so very good in 2013 and 2014, he should get a legitimate shot in 2016. In a defined role as a starter. But there should be plans in place to move him out fairly quickly if it looks like his 2015 results reflect the real Tanner Roark

  10. senators69 - Sep 18, 2015 at 4:29 PM

    Tanner will be here next year, I think. But for the team’s sake, Nats need to find a consistent role for him that fits his pitching (and be correct here) and just go with it.





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