If Bronson Arroyo is going to make the Nationals roster and extend his MLB career, he's going to need some help. It may not simply come down to him pitching well this spring, as both Joe Ross and Tanner Roark are in the mix as the projected fourth and fifth starters in the rotation.
Arroyo has been effective so far through two outings, including three perfect innings in his last appearance. But Roark, in particular, has been even better. The 29-year-old right-hander has been as impressive as any pitcher in Nationals camp.
Roark has made three starts and did not surrender a run until his third one. He has allowed only one run on eight hits in nine total innings. Opponents are batting .235 against him.
It's a small sample size, of course, but Roark already looks better than he did last spring. In 2015 camp, Roark gave up 12 earned runs on 23 hits (including 5 homers) in 14 innings (7.71 ERA). That helped set the stage for the worst regular season of Roark's career, as he bounced back and forth in between roles and never found his groove.
Roark has been pitching better this spring than he did in 2014 when he went on to hold a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts. His 9:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio this spring is already looking similar to his 11:3 mark of 2014, and he's allowing far fewer hits.
Roark has never been an overpowering pitcher with a fastball in the low-90s. Control was his calling card in 2014 and he has shown impressive command of the strike zone thus far.
Ross' numbers also look solid in the Grapefruit League with a 3.12 ERA through 8 2/3 innings, but his success has not come as easy as it has for Roark. Ross has allowed only three earned runs, but on 12 hits and four walks. He has allowed at least one walk in each of his three outings and opponents are batting .333 against him.
If Arroyo is to make the Nationals' rotation and become a spring surprise, his best bet may be for Ross to slip up. With how well Roark is pitching, it seems like he's close to locking up a spot.
Both Dusty Baker and Mike Maddux have praised Roark throughout the offseason and into this spring. Both have mentioned his 2014 numbers on several occasions, how he won 15 games and was one of the best starters in the NL. They wanted to give Roark an opportunity to win his job back and he's making the most of it.
The Nationals' outlook would be much-improved if Roark can regain his 2014 form. It just may not be good news for Arroyo and his odds of winning a rotation spot.