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How Nats SP Tanner Roark has managed to be more deceptive in 2016

How Nats SP Tanner Roark has managed to be more deceptive in 2016

There are numbers that suggest Tanner Roark has returned to his 2014 form as one of the best starters in the National League, and there are numbers that show he's been even better this season.

The ERAs are close, he's got a 2.96 mark now after hold a 2.85 in 2014 when he ranked 12th in the NL. But look closer at the peripheral stats, and it's clear the 29-year-old has made a notable leap as a pitcher.

Roark's career-high 2.21 groundball-to-flyball ratio ranks 8th among all MLB pitchers. His 7.98 strikeouts-per-nine rate is also a career-best by a good margin. And he's tops in baseball with 29.8 percent soft contact rate on balls put in play, according to FanGraphs.

Roark's success has always relied heavily on deception, with the absence of a high-90s fastball like some of his rotation mates. But this year he's been even trickier. Ask Roark about pitch sequencing and his face lights up.

"It's all mind games," he said with a hearty laugh. "It's all the game within the game."

What has helped Roark specifically is the development of his curveball and the fact he's reintroduced his four-seam fastball. Roark became a different pitcher in 2013 when he started throwing a two-seamer, a pitch with late life that pitching coach Mike Maddux has raved about numerous times this season.

But the trick sometimes is getting opponents to expect one and then get the other.

"I used to never throw my four-seamer anymore," Roark explained. "Now I throw my four-seam because there's video out there on me. I can throw my four-seam inside and they think it's a two-seamer, they swing at it and break their bat. Then you throw a two-seamer in there the next time and they think it's a four-seamer, then it comes back for a strike."

Roark has also used his curveball more this season. It now accounts for 13.4 percent of his pitches compared to 8.4 percent in 2014. That's a slight increase, but Roark will admit he feels more comfortable with his curveball, which he now throws nearly as often as his changeup.

"I've gotten smarter," he said. "Just when to throw it and how to throw it. Backdoor, frontdoor to righties. I trust my curveball. I feel good with it. I feel good with any pitch in any count. I feel I have good control with all four of my pitches, especially with my changeup to righties."

Roark can roll out five different pitches if he wants to and the difference in comfort between them is diminishing. It's made him more unpredictable and, as a result, more effective.

"You try to make every single pitch look exactly the same," he said. "I try to make them think that I can throw any one of my 4-5 pitches at any single time to keep them guessing."

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The sound of Bryce Harper's first spring training HR is beautiful


The sound of Bryce Harper's first spring training HR is beautiful

It's that wonderful time of year again — when baseball teams flock to warmer climates for spring training and the regular season is practically around the corner — and Bryce Harper is already killing it.

It took the Washington Nationals a few games to brush away their offseason cobwebs and get back into gear, but since the beginning of March, they're riding a five-game win streak as of Sunday the 4th.

They are 6-4-1 in spring training going into Monday's matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Since Thursday, the Nats have taken down — in order — the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, defending World Series champion Houston Astros, the Detroit Tigers and the Mets again. Sunday's 6-2 win against the Tigers was in large part thanks to Harper's bat, as the star of the team drilled his first home run of spring training. 


Turn up the volume for this one because the sound of Harper's contact with the ball is just beautiful — and perhaps enough to get you pumped for the March 29 opener.

Harper blew this ball away in the bottom of the third for a two-run homer with Howie Kendrick on base. He also had a single in the fourth and finished the game with three RBI.

Gio Gonzalez was the winning pitcher for the Nats. 


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Per usual, Max Scherzer strikes out Tim Tebow on three pitches


Per usual, Max Scherzer strikes out Tim Tebow on three pitches

We are fortunate enough to live in a world where we can watch a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (attempt to) hit against a three-time Cy Young pitcher in a Major League Baseball preseason game.

Max Scherzer took less than a minute to strike out Tim Tebow, who was batting cleanup for the Mets in a spring training game Friday. You can watch the whole at-bat here:

It looks like Tebow and Scherzer are starting to develop a pattern - last year’s matchup between the two went down the exact same way.

Tebow was able to redeem himself later in the game with his first hit of the year against Nats prospect Erick Fedde. He will likely begin the season with the Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies, but Mets GM Sandy Alderson said he believes Tebow will eventually see some at-bats in the Majors.