Roark plowed through the Marlins in 19 pitches over the first two innings. He spotted his fastball on all four corners between 91 and 93 mph and he did not need much else. As the Marlins lineup cycled, he expanded his repertoire. He threw all four of his pitches for strikes.
“Vintage Tanner Roark,” Class AAA Syracuse Manager Tony Beasley said. “Command the ball. Attack hitters. No fear. It’s impressive. It’s good to see him come here and not skip a beat as far as his mentality, not shying away from big league hitters.”
Roark traced his success to last season. Earlier in his career, Roark allowed bloop hits and other misfortunes to rattle him. He concentrated last year on eliminating that.
“I became mentally stronger, and not let the little things get to me while I’m on the mound,” Roark said. “I would get myself amped up. I would tend to overthink. That’s when I’d start to nibble and not be as aggressive as I am now.”
“You could always see flashes,” Beasley said. “He would have one bad inning, and it kind of snowballed on him in the past. This year, it’s just a different focus. He’s very focused, determined. It’s just his mindset. We say a lot of times players come into their own. I think he’s at that point.”
Saturday night, Roark responded to his first sign of trouble with one of his best pitches of the night. Two singles gave the Marlins runners on first and second with one out in the fourth. To the plate walked Giancarlo Stanton. Roark fell behind with a slider. In a fastball count, catcher Wilson Ramos called for another slider. Stanton tapped it to second base, and Anthony Rendon started a 4-6-3 double play. Roark slapped his mitt and marched back to the dugout.
“He don’t shake me off too much,” Ramos said. “He just trusts me. He gets the ball. You put something down. He says in his mind, ‘Okay, I can do that.’ ”
Logan Morrison, who one night earlier had hit the longest homer ever at Marlins Park, whiffed at a backdoor breaking ball on the outside corner to strike out in the fifth. One inning later, Johnson pulled Roark. He had not thrown more than 64 pitches in a game since his call-up, and Johnson planned to limit him to 80. As Roark walked off the field, he saw family friends who lived in Florida holding signs repping his hometown, Wilmington, Ill.
The result had been cemented, but then it hardly mattered. The Nationals could spend days sorting out the reasons they failed to meet expectation. They can also start to answer questions, and it is worth finding out how much further Roark can come.
“I wasn’t trying to change anything, wasn’t trying to do anything different,” Roark said. “I was just throwing as hard as I can for as long as I can.”