Washington Nationals Editorial: Tanner Roark a crucial part of 2016 rotation


With Jordan Zimmermann gone, Tanner Roark will be as important as he’s ever been for the Washington Nationals in 2016.

The Washington Nationals were dealt a significant — albeit, very much anticipated — blow last weekend when right-hander Jordan Zimmermann signed a 5-year, $110 million deal with the Detroit Tigers. Zimmermann was one of the team’s best pitchers and had grown into one of the best starters in the game. Whether they were expecting it or not, losing Zimmermann hurts.

But the Nationals have been preparing for this moment for several years now, and the team has more than enough depth to survive the loss of one of its home grown stars. Namely, the Nationals have Tanner Roark — the 2014 15-game winner who was relegated to a bullpen role last season after the team signed Max Scherzer.

Roark saw great success when he burst onto the scene as in 2013, going 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA in 14 games and five starts. The right-hander was even better in 2014, when he started 31 games and went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA.

On any other team, Roark would have entered Spring Training with an all but guaranteed spot in the rotation, perhaps even as a second or third starter. But the Nationals were entering 2015 with a loaded rotation of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez. Roark undoubtedly had the talent to be in the rotation, but the team simply didn’t have room for him.

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Next year, however, things will be different. Not only will the team have a spot for Roark to reenter the rotation, but the right-hander could play a crucial role on a team that needs to have a great season.

With Zimmermann gone, the Nationals will need Roark to perform at the level we saw in 2013-14, and he’ll have to avoid the inconsistency he showed in 2015, when he posted a career-wort 4.38 ERA. The right-hander struggled to adjust to his bullpen role last season and was constantly juggled between the bullpen and the rotation, so his struggles in 2015 are understandable. Theoretically, Roark should feel more comfortable easing into a starting role from the beginning of Spring Training and staying in the rotation all season long.

But Roark will be tasked with replacing the production of Zimmermann, and that won’t be easy. Zimmerman went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 2015. He went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA in 2014, and pitched one of the best seasons of his career in 2013, when he went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA.

While it’s unlikely that Roark can bring Zimmermann’s level of production to the rotation, the Nationals will need him to eat up a lot of Zimmermann’s innings. And based on what we saw from Roark in 2014 — when he pitched 198 2/3 great innings — the right-hander is more than capable of doing just that.

If Roark can return to his dominant starting ways, the Nationals’ rotation could be as dangerous as it’s ever been. The team already has a formidable rotation in Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez and Joe Ross. Barring any unexpected moves this offseason, it’ll be up to Roark to turn a very good rotation into an excellent rotation in 2016.