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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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Andy Martino of SNY refutes the reports that the Nats are out on Harper

Andy Martino of SNY refutes the reports that the Nats are out on Harper

Despite Mark Lerner's comments to NBC Sports Washington that the team hasn't been in recent contact with Bryce Harper and has filled out the roster, SNY's Andy Martino says not to give up hope.


"Do not believe that the Nationals are out on Harper," Martino said. "People I talk to around the situation are saying don't rule the Nationals out until the moment that Harper signs elsewhere."


Martino believes that the clearest options may not be what they seem.


"The Phillies of course are pursuing him, but I continue to hear they have a tough road to get Harper to come to Philly," he said. "The Phillies are possible but I don’t know that I would call them frontrunners."

After the news of Manny Machado signing with the Padres, all eyes turn to Bryce Harper and how long this continues to drag out. 

The clock is ticking.

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How to watch NBC Sports Washington's full interview with Nationals owner Mark Lerner

How to watch NBC Sports Washington's full interview with Nationals owner Mark Lerner

When Nationals principal managing owner Mark Lerner  see his team lose, he has a postgame ritual that rivals one of the most ordinary passionate fan.

“ I go into a closet and scream a little after,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas in an exclusive interview in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Friday. “No, no. That’s one thing that’s good about baseball. You’re going to play the next day. But I go home. I’m totally depressed. I won’t turn on the sports news or anything and get up the next morning, it’s a new day, get up and go after it again today. When I’m sitting down there, I’m very passionate as a fan. I’m yelling at the umpires like everybody else. I want to win. I hate losing exhibition games let alone regular-season games.”

Lerner also spoke about Bryce Harper's future - or lack thereof - with the team, Anthony Rendon and what he expects from the team this season.

The interview is now available in full on the MyTeams app, which can be downloaded here.

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