The Washington Nationals hope Tanner Roark does not struggle against the Miami Marlins, a team who has had his number in the past.
Four of his 10 losses came at the hands of Miami. In six starts, Roark went 2-4 with 4.46 ERA. Of the 66 earned runs allowed over 210 innings, 17 were surrendered to the Marlins.
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In this big opening month where the Nats face the rest of the National League East, he needs a strong performance. Last year at the friendly confines of Nationals Park, Roark went 9-6 with a 2.72 ERA. One of the key reasons the Nats won the division.
What fans do not want to see is a repeat of Roark’s opening start last year. Against those same Marlins in Washington, he fooled nobody. Done after four innings, three Marlins scored in the first and one more in the third as he came out for a pinch-hitter.
That afternoon, he tossed a whopping 99 pitches, striking out three, walking three and allowing nine hits in the effort. If you thought he would replace Stephen Strasburg as the number-two starter after that, you should book your trip to Las Vegas.
Roark has 12 career starts against Miami, more than any other team. And yes, they have stymied him throughout. Over 18 games, he has a 4-8 record with an okay 3.82 ERA. No other team has beat him more than the Marlins. Only the Chicago Cubs have pushed his ERA higher with five starts or more at 4.31.
Yet, Roark is a different pitcher than the one bruised by the Marlins in four early starts last year.
Although nerves got the better of him in his first career playoff start against the Los Angeles Dodgers last fall, he shut down Team Japan during his lone start in the World Baseball Classic. His level of confidence after not getting much work in a do-or-die game speaks volumes.
Behind Strasburg and Max Scherzer in the rotation for 2017, the pressure is not there to end slumps.
Over the second half of 2016, Roark was downright stingy. Opponents hit .207 off him and .234 if they made contact. Those are the numbers which win you Cy Young Awards.
The Marlins team facing him to continue their series finds a pitcher firmly battle-tested. The WBC semifinal at Dodger Stadium showed the baseball world his maturation as a big-name pitcher.
Although Roark struggled in the past against Miami, expect a different story.