WASHINGTON, D.C. — In each of his two career stints as a starting pitcher, Tanner Roark has rarely received the type of praise around the game that someone with his numbers typically would.
Who knows why that is, but he’s always produced as a rotation arm — even without an eye-popping pitching arsenal. He doesn’t throw a blazing fastball. He doesn’t have a knee-buckling curveball. And he isn’t particularly known as a strikeout artist.
What the 29-year-old right hander consistently shows, however, is his moxie, something that was on display once again throughout Sunday’s gritty 1-0 win over Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants.
“He's not amazing us anymore, we kind of come to expect it,” manager Dusty Baker said.
Roark wasn’t dominant by any means on Sunday, but he threw seven shutout frames on 105 pitches while working out of trouble throughout most of the afternoon. The Giants had runners in scoring position in the third, fourth, fifth and seventh innings, yet Roark buckled down each instance to keep them off the scoreboard.
“[I] felt confident out there, being aggressive,” Roark said. “The third and fourth, I had to step back a little bit to take some deep breaths and get that aggressiveness back and get at the hitters.”
Of the five hits San Francisco had on the day, only one came with runners in scoring position (and it didn’t result in a run scored). As a team, the Giants stranded a total of nine base runners.
“You’ve got to slow things down,” Roark said of pitching through jams. “If you don’t execute a pitch, you can’t just get right back up there and throw without an intention behind it. You’ve got to be confident in what you’re throwing, execute that pitch and not give in.”
“[Roark] was definitely the player of the game in my book,” said center fielder Ben Revere, whose seventh-inning catch over his shoulder saved two potential runs. “I was just trying to help him out the best I can.”
The victory raised Roark’s record to 12-6 —tied for fourth in the National League — while dropping his ERA to 2.88, which is good for 12th. And no other pitcher in baseball has pitched as many shutout starts of seven-plus innings.
What made Sunday's effort particularly impressive was that it one-upped Bumgarner, who is on the short list for NL Cy Young candidacy. Wilson Ramos' home run aside, the Giants’ ace showed the Nats why he’s one of the game’s best, pitching a complete game of one-run ball. But facing off against the former World Series MVP made Roark determined to keep the contest close knowing that runs were going to be at a premium.
“Yeah, he always does well. He pitches into the sixth, seventh, eighth, like you saw [Sunday],” Roark said his Giants counterpart. “He’s always aggressive. He’s one of the top pitchers in the game. Going against that, it gives me an extra boost. I want to go out there and do the same and not get beat.”
Roark didn't get beat. But a win like Sunday's, even against a big name like Bumgarner, isn't enough to raise one's national profile.
“Unfortunately," Ramos said through an interpreter, "there are a lot of names ahead of him [in baseball] and it shouldn’t be that way, in my personal opinion. He’s done a very good job and I hope he can continue working that way.
"I know they don’t see him much or put his name up there, but I know he’s a pitcher that can be above a lot of the other names."
Perhaps Roark will get a chance to change that narrative if the Nats make the playoffs and he continues to perform. But name recognition or not, it's clear this team has one of baseball's most effective arms.
"He’s been consistent all year," Ramos said. "I feel very happy for him. He’s been big for the team."