About three weeks away from the one year anniversary of Tanner Roark's MLB debut, it's still hard to comprehend what he's done so far in his professional career.
A former 25th round pick who came to Washington in a 2010 trade involving Christian Guzman, never did you see Roark's name on top prospects lists. His 4.04 ERA in six minor league seasons didn't raise any eyebrows. The guy went 6-17 in Triple-A in 2012.
Now, nearly a year into his MLB career, Roark holds a 2.47 ERA in the majors. He's 19 starts into his first full MLB season and he leads the Nats in wins with nine and holds a 2.91 ERA. Where, exactly, did this come from?
"One of the coolest things about baseball is the stories that you see develop. Tanner's one of the best stories," Ryan Zimmerman said.
"It just shows you: keep working hard and keep doing what you're supposed to do like he does and it will pay off. He's been great. He's fun to play behind, he goes right at the hitters. It's been a lot of fun to watch."
Roark is evolving before our eyes. In late June he adjusted his slider grip, now using more of his middle finger and more seam. It's the grip Jordan Zimmermann uses for his slider, and Roark likes it.
The new grip allows Roark to throw his slider faster and so far the results have been good.
"I actually changed my grip on it, that helped out a lot," Roark said. "I went to the Jordan Zimmermann slider and it's gone up velocity-wise. It's been a lot sharper and I've been able to throw it a lot harder."
Roark says throwing his slider harder is the key. He averages about 83 miles per hour on the pitch throughout his career, but on Saturday was consistently topping 84 and touched 85 on one in the fifth inning.
"Jordan told me that you can't baby it or else it's going to be a backup slider and just get crushed. You just gotta throw it, man."
Roark pitched seven innings in the Nationals' 8-3 win over the Brewers on Saturday night. He gave up just one run on six hits and a walk, throwing 112 total pitches.
Nats manager Matt Williams sent Roark back out for the seventh after throwing 100 through six, a gesture Roark appreciated.
"I loved it, actually. It lets us starters know that he has confidence in us and it makes you feel good about yourself. You go out there and you know it's going to be your last inning, give it everything you got and go out there and leave your heart out on the field."
Catcher Wilson Ramos said he saw something in Roark's slider during their pregame bullpen warmup. Roark was keeping it down and had zip on it. Ramos called more sliders than usual and said he loves how Roark rarely shakes him off, how he just goes out and throws the ball.
"I like when the pitcher goes out there and feels confident to throw every pitch, Ramos said. "When they feel like that, we don't need to do too much."
As for Roark's development over the last year?
"He's a really good pitcher. That's only what I have to say," Ramos said. "He's got really good stuff every time he goes out there. He's my guy."