Goss: Tanner Roark a sensation in first taste of big leagues
By Dick Goss email@example.com September 21, 2013 8:50PM
Washington Nationals relief pitcher Tanner Roark, right, and catcher Wilson Ramos talk as they head to the dugout before the start of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Miami. | AP photo
Updated: October 23, 2013 6:24AM
For much of 2013, Tony Cingrani (Lincoln-Way Central) was the poster boy for Joliet-area baseball.
After tearing up the minor leagues the past couple of seasons, the hard-throwing left-hander pitched well in relief for the Cincinnati Reds before replacing injured Johnny Cueto in the starting rotation.
Cingrani is 7-4 with a 2.92 ERA in 109⅔ innings. Late in the season, however, lower back spasms have plagued him. He was on the disabled list in late August. Against the Cubs on Sept. 10, in his second start after returning, he lasted 1⅔ innings before leaving with more back spasms. He since has not pitched.
When Cingrani’s back issues flared, however, the Joliet area was not left empty-handed. Right-hander Tanner Roark (Wilmington) was called up by the Washington Nationals from Triple-A Syracuse and has taken the baseball world by storm.
Tuesday, the day after 13 people died in the shootings at Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, Roark gave Nationals fans a lift. He threw seven shutout innings, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out six, and retired the last 14 batters he faced in a 4-0 victory over Atlanta. That completed a sweep of the day-night doubleheader the Nationals needed to keep their playoff hopes flickering.
Since his promotion Aug. 7, Roark has been in 12 games, starting the last three. He is 7-0 with a 1.08 ERA. In 41⅔ innings, he has allowed 26 hits and nine walks while striking out 32. His average against is .183 and his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) is 0.84.
The sample size is small, but the numbers are remarkable. When opposing hitters sing your praises, you know you’re doing something right.
“It’s not smoke and mirrors right now,” Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche was quoted in a Washington Post blog after the Atlanta game. “You get guys coming down to first and talking about how good his stuff is, some really good hitters that are praising him. It says a lot. There’s not a lot of comfortable at-bats against him. It’s quick strikes and he’s locating down so he’s getting a lot of chases down.”
Roark throws his fastball 91 to 94 mph but has retired hitters by locating all his pitches. He attributes his career turnaround to the change in his mental approach that occurred last season, when he was 6-17 with a 4.39 ERA at Syracuse.
He has told me he no longer allows negatives to bother him. If he allows a home run or someone makes an error, so what? He gets back on the mound and throws the next pitch.
“The biggest thing is trusting your stuff,” said Chris Michalak (Joliet Catholic), a former major league pitcher and current successful pitching coach at Potomac, Washington’s A-Advanced affiliate in the Carolina League. “Tanner is doing that and getting the ball over the plate. It’s pretty exciting.
“It’s like the old cliche. How do you get that confidence? It takes a while. Then it’s a matter of repeating it over and over.”
The Nationals entered the weekend clinging to slim playoff hopes. Roark is scheduled to start the series opener Monday at St. Louis. The game will have playoff ramifications for the Cardinals as well. My guess is a Wilmington contingent, a few of whom are named Roark, will travel Interstate 55 to see it.
Washington’ playoff bid may fall short, but Roark still has planted the seed that he can help the starting rotation in 2014. Nobody has a 1.08 ERA forever, but it will be interesting to see how things progress.
“Pitching depth in an organization opens possibilities, and Tanner is adding to ours,” Michalak said.
Roark also can hit. He has a .300 average (3-for-10), with a double and an RBI.
He has enjoyed a storybook month and a half in the big leagues. It’s been a blast to watch.