After a rough season bouncing between the rotation and bullpen in 2015, Tanner Roark returned to a full-time starting gig last year and picked up right where he left off in 2014, posting a career-best 20.1 percent strikeout rate and again significantly outperforming his FIP (3.79). The secret to his success is not an overpowering fastball but a deep five-pitch arsenal anchored by a plus sinker. In fact, the 30-year-old right-hander was one of just four pitchers last season to get positive value from all five of his pitches. The other three names on that list (Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta and Johnny Cueto) sit among the game's elite. Fatigue may have been an issue late in the season, though, as Roark topped 200 innings for the first time, and his 10 percent walk rate in the second half was a far cry from the 7.4 percent mark he posted in the first half. He's never going to be mistaken for an ace, but he will help fantasy owners cautious enough not to treat him like one. View him as a solid depth piece for a mixed pitching staff, but brace for a bit of negative correction in 2017.
Roark returned to camp for the Nationals on Friday, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. Although he was impressive Tuesday in the WBC semi-final against Team Japan, Roark threw just 48 pitches and will likely only be able to get in two more spring outings to build up his workload before his first start of the regular season, set for April 5 against the Marlins.
Roark allowed two hits and a walk while striking out one in four shutout innings for Team USA during Tuesday's 2-1 win over Japan in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. He was held to only 48 pitches after not getting onto a mound for nine days, but Roark was still extremely sharp in a huge spot for Team USA. Given how little work he's had during the WBC, however, the 30-year-old righty may not be up to full speed by the time Opening Day rolls around. His ratios may be fine, but don't count on Roark for a lot of innings -- or wins -- in his first couple of starts this season while he builds up his stamina.
Roark will remain with Team USA heading into the second round of the WBC, The Washington Post reports. He gave up three runs in 1.1 innings in his only appearance of the first round, one of only three American pitchers to be scored upon so far -- Mychal Givens and Andrew Miller were the others, so Roark is at least in good company. He was expected to rejoin the Nationals after the first round, but staying a few extra days with the national team instead shouldn't impact his ability to get ready for Opening Day.
Roark cruised in his final tuneup Sunday before leaving to compete in the World Baseball Classic, holding the Twins without a run and striking out three in four innings of work. Roark was able to exit Nationals camp on a positive note, as he was able to retire Twins hitters with little difficulty. His next appearance on the mound will come with Team USA when they face off against the Dominican Republic on Saturday. The Nationals will be hoping Roark can pick up where left off when he ultimately rejoins the team.
Roark gave up two hits and struck out four in three shutout innings during Monday's Grapefruit League game against the Cardinals. He could make one more spring appearance before heading out to take part in the WBC for Team USA, but Roark already seems to be in midseason form as he stifled a St. Louis lineup that consisted mainly of big league regulars. He'll make one start for the American team during the tournament before heading back to camp.