Injuries last year thrust Tanner Roark into an unlikely spot in the talented starting rotation of the Washington Nationals. The way the right-hander pitched on Saturday, his slot in the rotation may be as secure as any of the Nationals' more heralded stars.
Roark pitched a three-hitter for the first complete game of his career as the Washington Nationals shut out the San Diego Padres 4-0.
The 27-year-old set down the first 16 batters before San Diego catcher Rene Rivera, an .074 batter entering the game, hit a solid single to center field with one out in the sixth inning.
Mixing three other pitches with his modest 92 mph fastball, Roark (2-0) walked one and struck out eight, including Jedd Gyorko to end the game on his 105th pitch.
"I was feeling confident out there on the mound, feeling strong," Roark said. "Getting ahead of the hitters is the biggest thing."
As fans gave Roark a standing ovation to close the eighth inning, it was an unfamiliar feeling. Even in the minor leagues, in 166 appearances, he had never pitched a shutout and had only one complete game. As he conducted an on-field interview, he was doused with two buckets of Gatorade.
"For the first time doing it, it feels real good," Roark said. "It feels great. It gives you confidence."
Roark has been more than a one-hit wonder for the Nationals. Since taking his spot in the rotation, he has produced eight quality starts in 10 attempts with a 5-1 record. Roark extended his run of consecutive scoreless innings to 18. In 35 innings at Nationals Park he has given up one earned run.
"He's got four quality pitches that he throws -- all of them for strikes," manager Matt Williams said. "He has the ability to change speeds really well."
After losing to Stephen Strasburg on Friday night, 11-1, and getting even fewer hits against the crafty Roark, the Padres were frustrated.
"He had a good sinker, changeup, was keeping the ball down especially," said San Diego first baseman Yonder Alonso, who went 0-for-3.
Ian Desmond has three hits for Washington, including a run-scoring double -- the game's only extra-base hit -- which highlighted a three-run first inning off losing pitcher Andrew Cashner (2-3).
Washington got all the offense it needed in the first inning as singles by Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche produced one run. Desmond's double to the right-field corner brought in another. Danny Espinosa's sacrifice fly gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead.
Washington increased its advantage to 4-0 in the sixth when Kevin Frandsen opened with a single, moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Roark, and scored on a single to left by Denard Span. Frandsen was starting in left field for Bryce Harper, who was out of the lineup with a jammed thumb.
Roark's performance was almost enough to make the Nationals forget that two other starting position players -- including catcher Wilson Ramos and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman -- also saw a visiting hand specialist on Saturday along with Harper.
"When he takes the mound he feels like he's under control," Williams said. "There's certainly a trust factor there that he is prepared and he is able to go about it and throw strikes. There's a direct correlation between early outs and getting deep into a game. Early outs mean he's pounding the strike zone and being aggressive."