Put together a spectacular campaign in your first season as a full-time starting pitcher, and you might stick around in the rotation for a while. Not for Tanner Roark, however, who after winning 15 games and posting a 2.85 ERA in 2014 was relegated to the bullpen once the Washington Nationals added Max Scherzer to the already stacked rotation over the offseason. Behind the likes of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez, there wasn’t much room for the former 25th round pick.
So Roark shifted to long relief and spot starting, mainly taking care of mop up duty during blowouts. He pitched well in April and May, posting a respectable 2.59 ERA between the two months. Once June hit, however, things began to fall apart for the 28-year old right hander. After giving up nine earned runs in his first 15 appearances, he allowed 18 runs over his next five outings. He would continue to struggle through July as he entered August with a 4.71 ERA.
In the beginning of August, the rough season that teammate Doug Fister was enduring forced manager Matt Williams to shift him to the bullpen and push rookie Joe Ross into the rotation. Meanwhile, Roark was left in the ‘pen for another month, where he was able to find a rhythm. Over his final nine relief appearances, he only gave up three total runs.
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His success was to be short-lived, however, as on August 25th, the Nats optioned Roark to High-A Potomac in an effort to stretch out his arm. One week later, Ross hit his pre-determined innings limit, allowing Roark to take back over a starting role. He made six straight starts to finish the season, ending the year 4-7 with a 4.38 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, and a 1.4 HR/9 in 40 appearances (12 starts). Overall, his season was pretty unspectacular in a year when spectacular was supposed to be the norm for this team.
Heading into 2016, Tanner Roark’s role on the Nationals ballclub remains up in the air. Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, and Gio all hold locks on rotation spots for next season, but it remains to be seen if Roark will be handed back the No. 5 spot. If President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo decides not to pick up any arms off the market this winter, then Roark may be in a spring training battle for his rotation spot in March.