Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan spent spring training fighting for the fifth starting spot in the Nationals’ starting rotation and the competition isn’t over.
With No. 4 starter Doug Fister on the disabled list with a right lat injury, Roark and Jordan made the opening day roster and are currently in the five-man rotation. Once Fister’s healthy, manager Matt Williams will have to settle on just one for the rotation.
Roark got his first start of the season Thursday against the Mets. Originally slated to pitch Friday’s home opener against Atlanta, Roark filled in for Jordan Zimmermann, who was experiencing flu-like symptoms. After a shaky 31-pitch first inning that saw him give up two earned runs, Roark settled down and threw five consecutive scoreless innings in Washington’s 8-2 win over the Mets. After the slow start, Roark finished strong by striking out the side in the bottom of the sixth inning.
These early-season games will give Williams a good look at who will ultimately be the Nationals’ fifth starter.
Roark would seem to have an advantage after Thursday’s start, as well as the fact he posted a 7-1 record and a 1.51 ERA a year ago.
“It’s definitely a huge opportunity,” Roark said last week. “I’m going to do what I can. Go out there and get outs. Put up zeros and attack hitters.”
However, Jordan had a productive spring, striking out 20 batters in 20⅔ innings pitched.
After throwing a simulated game Tuesday, Jordan is slated to pitch in Sunday’s series finale against the Braves.
Jordan’s specialty is his sinker, which causes many batters to put the ball on the ground. In nine starts last year, Jordan recorded 77 groundouts from 102 ground balls. He gave up only three home runs in 773 pitches.
“The hard work is paying off,” Jordan said. “I just got to keep staying with the program I’m doing and keep on working hard to stay up here as long as I can.”
Roark got off to a good start this season in his first outing. Jordan will need the same Sunday to stay in the mix for that fifth starting position once Fister returns.
“Both have proven themselves worthy of that spot,” Williams said. “Now, with the adjustments we’re going to have to make, they’re both there, which is a good thing. It’s not one over the other. They both have done really well and have proven they can handle it. We’re in the situation we’re in and both are going to have to pitch.”