The departure of Jordan Zimmermann this offseason marks a significant loss to the Nationals' pitching rotation, one of the main strengths of the team since its ascension into a playoff contender. But does general manger Mike Rizzo now need to find a replacement?
Not according to new Mike Maddux. He believes the team already has a fifth starter on the roster.
"What an inventory of arms over here," Maddux told reporters at Nats Winterfest. "I look at a rotation that features Max Scherzer up top, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross, Tanner Roark; everybody's got their own little shtick going on there."
When talking about the staff he now inherits as the team's new pitching coach, Maddux was perhaps the most complimentary towards Roark.
Roark emerged as a starter in 2014 and pitched exceptionally well, compiling a 15-10 record and a 2.85 ERA which was better than both Stephen Strasburg (3.14) and Gio Gonzalez (3.57). Roark move back to the bullpen last season, but what he did in 2014 certainly seemed to resonate with Maddux.
"He's come out of nowhere a couple years ago and won 15 ballgames," Maddux said, "And then there was some acquisitions and some health, some resurgence of guys added to the roster last year that kind of knocked him out, but you've got to admire a guy like him. Holy cow. I mean, talk about the typical blue collar laymen that goes out and wins 15 ballgames and makes a little notch in his belt for him, that's pretty good, man."
So good, in fact, that when asked if he thought Roark would be the team's fifth starter next season to replace Zimmermann, Maddux said, "Why not? It's his job to lose."
That of course will depend on whether general manager Mike Rizzo agrees. Should he seek an established starting pitcher this offseason, it will be tough to justify keeping Roark in the rotation. But if Rizzo listens to his new pitching coach and to the sentiments of the team, it becomes clear that starting pitching does not need to be on the Rizzo's to do list this winter.
"Hopefully Tanner will get an opportunity to pitch in the rotation again," Strasburg said.
Maddux agrees. "I'm rooting for him big time."
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