Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan make Nats’ Opening Day roster with Doug Fister out

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After competing with each other for six weeks for the Nationals’ fifth starter job, it turns out Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan have made the team’s Opening Day roster. It happened because of an injury to starter Doug Fister, but both Roark and Jordan are excited for the opportunity no matter the circumstances.

It feels great. Finally to get the answer, it feels really good. I’m very excited,” Roark said.

“I’m definitely happy to be here again this year,” Jordan said. “Especially out of spring training, that’s something I’m very proud of myself. It feels great to be here.”

Roark and Jordan entered spring in an open competition with Ross Detwiler for the job. Then Detwiler was removed from the running and sent to the bullpen on March 17. That left Roark and Jordan to compete over the final two weeks.

Having it drag on for over a month was taxing for both pitchers. They had to work towards the season with very different possibilities for their future in mind.

“At one point, it was like the middle of spring training I was wanting to know,” Roark said. “But it was the middle of spring training, you weren’t going to find out then. After that you just let it go and you can’t really worry about it. It’s not up to you.”

It is a competition but at the same time I still have to do the very best that I can,” Jordan said. “I didn’t really focus on the competition itself as of me actually doing as well as I can.”

Manager Matt Williams is happy to have both on board. He will likely have to choose between the two at some point, but for now both are with the Nationals for the foreseeable future.

Williams was glad to be able to give each the good news before the team headed north.

“They were both excited. They were both eager to prove themselves in spring. They really pitched well. We created this competition between the two of them and they both responded. Those are very good signs.”

With Fister recovering from a right lat strain, the Nationals’ rotation will proceed as follows:

March 31 vs. Mets - Stephen Strasburg

April 2 vs. Mets - Gio Gonzalez

April 3 vs. Mets - Jordan Zimmermann

April 4 vs. Braves - Tanner Roark

April 5 vs. Braves - Stephen Strasburg

April 6 vs. Braves - Taylor Jordan

That means Roark will start the home opener for the Nationals against the reigning NL East-champion Atlanta Braves. Roark was supposed to pitch in Saturday’s exhibition game against the Tigers, but it was canceled due to rain. Instead Roark threw a heavy bullpen session at Nationals Park to keep him on track for April 6.

Roark thinks he will be fine with the adjusted schedule.

I just threw a bullpen. Nothing you can do about it. You can’t control the weather so I’m not going to worry about it.”

Roark came up in August of last season and dazzled both out of the bullpen and as a starter. He finished the year 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA in 53 2/3 innings across 14 games. This spring he went 3-1 with a 3.29 ERA, earning the opportunity to start the home opener.

The day will surely be a big production at Nationals Park. They roll out the red carpet, players and coaches are introduced, and there is usually a flyover. It is not your usual afternoon game.

Roark understands that and thinks he’ll feel jitters no matter what he does between now and then.

“It’s still a big deal. I’m not going to tell you I won’t be nervous. If you’re not nervous, you’re not human. I’m excited for it. I’m glad I got the ball in the home opener.”

For his debut last season, Roark’s hometown of Wilmington, Illinois put on quite the watch party for him. Many of the town’s 5,700 people converged on his cul de sac to see the game on a big projector screen. Roark expects a similar situation on April 6.

“I’m sure there will be. I’m sure there will be a projector screen out in the cul de sac and they’ll get the road blocked out, cut off the cul de sac so nobody can drive through. It’s just one great, big get-together.

“It’s a small town of 5700 people so everybody knows everybody. I’m sure I’ll be getting tons of text messages and phone calls after the game and God knows what.”

 

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