Right-hander Tanner Roark has become one of the best pitchers on the Nationals. In his last two starts, for example, he hasn't allowed a run in his last 15 2/3 innings. Roark's next start is Saturday night against the Phillies.
Of the two starts, Roark's best game was this past Saturday, when he pitched a three-hit shutout against the Padres at Nationals Park. Before the game, Roark, 27, had a bullpen session that made him believe he could possibly have the game of his life.
"I was staying on the ball command-wise," Roark said. "You have those games where you don't know where the ball is going and then you have a great feel of every pitch. That's how I felt that day."
Although Roark is one of the talented pitchers on the Nats, two years ago, it seemed doubtful he would ever have a big league career. He was with Triple-A Syracuse and having his worst season of his professional career. Roark lost 17 games in 2012 and was blaming everybody but himself. He would get upset over the littlest things. If there were a couple of bloop hits, for example, Roark would get upset.
It seems hard to believe Roark had that attitude with Syracuse, because as a member of the Nationals, he is shy and humble around the local media. He always talks about his family in Illinois.
But then Roark had a heart-to-heart talk with assistant general manager Doug Harris, then-manager Tony Beasley and then-pitching coach Greg Booker. The trio told Roark to start thinking about making each pitch and not worry about anything else. They told Roark that since he can't control what happens behind him, he might as well not worry about it.
"I was being selfish, I guess," Roark admitted. "Little things would happen -- bloop hits. I would be getting it in my own head and saying, 'Why is he getting on?' I was trying really hard. We all sat down, it was an emotional meeting. We talked it through ... I never went through anything like that before. It was good for me. That's what turned my career around -- the mental aspect of the game."
"It was about him understanding who he was, what he needed to do to be successful," Harris said. "Tanner did a terrific job, taking and applying [what we said]. He was in a funk. He really did a nice job battling his way out of it. He really found himself."
The talk even helped Roark change his life off the field.
"I'm not letting little petty things get to me," Roark said.
Roark worked hard during the offseason of 2012 and had his best season in '13. He went a combined 16-4 with a 2.60 ERA for Syracuse and Washington. That made Roark a candidate for the rotation this year, and he was on the Opening Day roster after teammate Doug Fister suffered a strained lat before the start of the regular season.
Now, Roark is an integral part of the rotation.
"He has a terrific understanding of who he is and what he needs to do to be successful," Harris said. "That was probably the biggest thing that got him over the hump. He finally began to trust who he was and that he was capable of getting people out with his stuff."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.