WASHINGTON — For lots of pitchers, a 71-minute rain delay would wreak havoc with their game-day routine. For Tanner Roark, it was just another day at the office.
Following an hour-plus weather wait on Saturday night, Roark went out and silenced the Pittsburgh Pirates, throwing eight scoreless innings to lift the Washington Nationals to a 6-0 victory. The team’s fifth straight W increased Washington’s lead to a season-high seven games in the National League East. Beyond that, it served as further proof of just how comically indestructible (and criminally underrated) Roark is.
Despite winning 15 games in 2014, his first full season as a starter, Roark was kicked to the curb (or at least the bullpen) last year when the team signed Max Scherzer. But following the departure of starters Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann this past offseason, Roark found himself back in the rotation. Given the way he’s performed — not to mention the fact that his walkout/walkup song is Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” — it doesn’t look like he’s in any hurry to relinquish his reclaimed role anytime soon.
“He’s hungry,” said manager Dusty Baker. “He wanted this spot and he got it, and he doesn’t plan on giving it up.” Even if it means getting the short end of the stick when it comes to, well, just about everything a starting pitcher could possibly get the short end of the stick on.
Counting Saturday, Roark now has started four games that have been delayed by rain, which is three more than any other member of Washington’s rotation. Two of those delays have been longer than an hour. He has started a team-high 10 day games and even pitched once in relief (2 1/3 shutout innings on the final day of the first half). Despite being the Nats’ No. 4 starter, he’s squared off against aces like Jake Arrieta and Jose Fernandez. He’s been asked to start Washington’s home opener (which, by the way, featured an 85-minute rain delay) and end a seven-game losing streak (which he did successfully in Milwaukee last month).
Despite getting jobbed repeatedly, he’s flourished. In fact, the more Roark gets jobbed, the better job he seems to do. Saturday was just the latest example.
“You can’t control Mother Nature,” said Roark, who overcame the District’s dampness, allowing just five hits and a walk while fanning five to become the only Nats starter not named Max Scherzer to pitch into the ninth inning this season. “You gotta roll with the punches and go out there and stay on point and do your thing.”
Few hurlers have been more on point than Roark this year. Following his latest outing, he’s now sporting a 2.82 ERA that ranks 11th in the National League. He has 12 starts of seven-plus innings (most on Washington) and has thrown more innings than all but three NL pitchers (Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Scherzer). Then there’s this: Thanks largely to a two-seam fastball that, when it’s on, runs more than Forrest Gump, his 22.7 percent hard-hit rate coming into Saturday was the lowest in the majors.
All of which is to say, Tanner Roark’s been pretty darned good this season. And consistent.
Said third baseman Anthony Rendon: “He gives you the same thing every time he goes out and starts.” Regardless of what the elements bring.
“If you wanna tackle this guy,” said Baker prior to Saturday’s game, “you better bring a lunch, dinner and some snacks.”
Speaking of lunch, Roark’s next start is scheduled for Thursday against the Dodgers — at the ungodly early baseball time of 12:05 p.m. Just another day at the office.