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Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Roark an unlikely winner

By Mark Simon


Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsTanner Roark was winning before his recall and has kept winning since reaching the majors.
It was a day of improbables as the Washington Nationals swept a doubleheader from the Atlanta Braves.

Craig Kimbrel blew a save (he’d converted 37 straight), Andrelton Simmons made a game-ending error (he leads the majors with 41 Defensive Runs Saved), Denard Span got halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s record hitting streak of 56 games.

But the most improbable story is that of Tanner Roark, who improved to 7-0 with a 1.08 ERA with seven scoreless innings in the nightcap win.

A year ago, Roark was a 25-year old who had never made the majors, and went 6-17 with a 4.39 ERA in Triple-A. He was a 25th-round pick in 2008 and had never made a Top-100 prospects list.

Now, since being recalled in August after winning six straight decisions in the minors, he’s an unlikely star in what has turned into a pennant race for a team that is a major-league best 21-6 in its last 27 games. After starting his career in the bullpen, Roark is 3-0 with two runs allowed in 19 innings in three starts.

How he’s winning
Roark averages nearly 93 mph with his fastball, which tops out at 95 mph.

Against right-handed hitters, he throws his slider about one-third of the time, and has gotten 19 outs with it without giving up a hit.

Right-handers are 12-for-82 against him this season (.146 batting average) with only one extra-base hit.

Versus lefty hitters, he mixes a changeup in about 20 percent of the time and a curveball at a rate of about one for every six pitches, and those two combined to get him four outs on Tuesday night.

Lefties are hitting .233 against Roark, though also with only one extra-base hit in 60 at-bats.

Tuesday it was the offspeed stuff that worked very well for Roark, netting him 11 outs on 38 pitches.

Roark has thrown 41 2/3 innings and 563 pitches to start his career and has still not allowed a home run.

Opposing hitters are 1-for-30 when hitting a fly ball against him and 16-for-30 when hitting a line drive (major-league hitters typically get hits on line drives about 70 percent of the time and hit a homer for every 10 fly balls they hit).

Brave New World
Roark has made three appearances against the Braves, allowing no earned runs, four hits and two walks with 12 strikeouts in 12 innings. The combo of Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Brian McCann are 1-for-11 against him.

Looking Ahead
Roark is 7-0 and is on the precipice of doing something unusual. Only three pitchers in major-league history have finished with at least seven wins and no losses in their debut season.

Nate Jones was the most recent, doing so for the White Sox last season with an 8-0 mark. The other two instances are Joe Pate, who was 9-0 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1926 (he would only pitch one other season) and Kirk Reuter, who went 8-0 for the Montreal Expos in 1993.

Rueter, similar to Roark in that he was a late draft pick (18th round in 1991), would have a prosperous 13-year career, most of it with the San Francisco Giants.