With the Nationals already down 1-0 in their best-of-five series against the Dodgers, they’ll be leaning on their rotation’s secret weapon to help them draw even before heading to L.A.
Indeed, for as impressive as Tanner Roark’s 2016 has been, it has seemingly flown under the radar around the baseball world. He finished the regular season 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA over 210 innings of work, and yet is rarely mentioned when discussing the NL’s top arms.
However, Game 2 of the division series will give him a chance to show the nation what the Nats have already known about him in his four-year big-league career.
“It's definitely a dream come true,” Roark said before NLDS Game 1. “To get your first start in the post-season. But you've got to go out there and be confident in everything that I do, and, you know, be aggressive and keep doing what I did all during the season. Not change anything and just be myself.”
The 29-year-old right hander doesn’t have to be modest when stacking his numbers side-by-side with the NL’s best. Roark has induced the third-most double plays in baseball, and has the most starts of any starter this season of seven or more shutout innings. He may not have the electric fastball or the wipeout slider, but sinker ball has been tough for opposing hitters to square up.
“This guy, he's a horse,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He's a warrior. We feel very comfortable with him on the mound. We know that he's going to fight you every turn and every inning of the game.”
“Oh, yeah, I definitely feel Tanner has been underrated the majority of his career,” added third baseman Anthony Rendon. “He's a bulldog. I love that guy.”
It’s been a somewhat long and winding road for Roark to wind up as one of the Nats’ three best starters. Originally a player to be named later when coming over from the Minnesota Twins in 2010, Roark made his MLB-debut in 2013 as a reliever. A season later, he joined the rotation and broke out, winning 15 games and sporting a 2.85 ERA. But after the Nats signed Max Scherzer in 2015, Roark returned to the bullpen in somewhat of a nebulous role, which came with mixed results.
But the Nats was in need of a starter with Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann departing last offseason, giving Roark a shot to prove that 2014 wasn’t a fluke.
“I asked him [in spring training] ‘Are you a starter or a reliever, which one would you rather do?’ And he told me he wanted to start,” Baker said. “So I said, ‘Okay, I'm going to give you every opportunity to start.’”
The decision paid off, and Roark doesn’t appear to be relinquishing his spot in the rotation again anytime soon. Now it’s up to him to come through for the Nats when they need him most.
“If you're not nervous, you're not human, and you don't care, I feel like,” Roark said. “So for me, being nervous is a good thing. And I'm not starting till tomorrow, so just got to go out there and do my thing. Just be confident and trust my stuff.”