Dominant Roark records 15 K's vs. Twins

Nats righty sets career high with strikeouts, allows only 2 hits over 7 innings in win

April 23rd, 2016

WASHINGTON -- Tucked away in his bag after the most dominant game of his career was the ball from his 15th and final strikeout. Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark had just delivered one of the best starts in all of baseball this season during Saturday's 2-0 victory over the Twins.

He struck out a career-high 15 batters in seven masterful innings, with command of all four of his pitches for the first time he could ever remember in a game.

"I was throwing four pitches to lefties and righties," Roark said. "Keeping them guessing, keeping them uncomfortable up at the plate, trying to get ahead with strike one."

His two-seam fastball, which pitching coach Mike Maddux called a "a bona fide out pitch", kept the Twins' lineup off balance all afternoon and produced seven of his 14 swings and misses on the day. He fanned hitters looking five times.

It's only the second double-digit strikeout game of his career, shattering his previous career best of 11 strikeouts in eight innings on June 6, 2014, against the Padres.

Although the Twins' offense is aggressive at the plate and began the day tied for the sixth-most strikeouts in the Majors, Roark had only nine strikeouts through his first 17 innings this season.

"That's baseball. On a given day, anybody can be a world-beater," Maddux said. "Today was Tanner's day to do that, to have that special moment. I think Max [Scherzer] had a couple last year, very special moments. Today was a special moment for Tanner."

A year ago, Roark was miscast as a reliever. He spent most of the season shuffling between the rotation and bullpen and never found a rhythm because of it. So Roark arrived at Spring Training with the intention of being a starter, determined to prove himself in the Nats' rotation.

On Saturday, it seemed as if the only thing that could prevent Roark from continuing his dominance was his rising pitch count. He needed 96 pitches to get through five innings and 108 to get through six.

Manager Dusty Baker considered pulling Roark from the game after the sixth and conferred with Maddux and catcher Wilson Ramos about it. But they considered the fact that Roark had rarely pitched with runners on base -- he scattered two singles and three walks throughout his outing -- and that most of the pitches came under low stress.

They sent Roark out for the seventh, and he retired the side in order, complete with a strikeout of outfielder Max Kepler for his 15th on the day. He finished with a career-high 121 pitches.

"I love that Dusty trusted in me, and Mike trusted in me to go out there," Roark said. "I felt great, body felt great, arm felt great. I still felt focused out there on the mound.

"It's like it's my game, and I wanted it."