Blue Jays: Tanner Roark performing well early in Spring Training
Signed during the 2019/2020 off-season, veteran pitcher Tanner Roark was brought in to be a back of the rotation arm that would give the Blue Jays innings and pitch deep into ball games putting up respectable numbers along the way.
In the shortened 2020 season, what transpired was a pretty lackluster campaign that saw the right-hander see his ERA spike to 6.80 accompanied with a 1.74 WHIP, giving up 14 home runs in just 11 starts while also throwing 41 strikeouts compared to his 23 walks.
To say that fans were not impressed with Roark’s performance last season is an understatement, with many across the organization thinking his time as a Blue Jay may be numbered given their influx of back-end starters. While trading Roark is a possibility given the Illinois native only has one year and $12 million left on his contract, finding a suitor could be difficult given the rough season he had in 2020 (with at least some sort of plausible return). There is the possibility that the Blue Jays could designate Roark for assignment, but they would still be on the hook for his contract, which isn’t ideal, but is manageable for the Rogers-owned organization if they choose to do so.
That being said, not many were giving Roark the time of the day when February rolled around this year and it seems like he may just be out to prove the doubters wrong early into Spring Training.
With two games under his belt, Roark has pitched 5.0 innings and has yet to surrender an earned run while striking out four in the process. He has also not allowed a walk so far this spring and while he has given up a few fly balls, the veteran has yet to put up a crooked number on the scoreboard, something he struggled with right out of the gate in 2020. This success is most likely coming from his fastball, a pitch that Roark said did not work for him last year, but is finding success early in the spring campaign even with the decrease in velocity.
One could argue that the small sample size and that it is ‘just’ Spring Training is not a telling sign of Roark’s season to come, but you also have to consider who the former Oakland Athletic faced during his outings.
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He started both games against the Philadelphia Phillies and the Detroit Tigers, and while they aren’t fielding the most potent lineups in the league, there was still some major league talent in the order. Roark was able to get Scott Kingery and Obubel Herrera to both fly out on the Phillies while also getting Miguel Cabrera, JaCoby Jones, and Christin Stewart to strike out on the Tigers, surrendering hits to Travis Jankowski (Phillies) and Jeimer Candelario (Tigers).
So far Roark has looked pretty impressive during his outings and is potentially finding a good rhythm that could hopefully carry over to the regular season that would not only help the Blue Jays win games, but also give the bullpen rest when needed throughout the year. Considering fans and analysts alike thought he was on the chopping block as to whether he would even crack the rotation this year, it is a telling sign to see Roark performing well and on a rotation type of schedule. His next spring appearance if he were to throw on four days rest (he pitched against the Phillies on March 6 and Tigers on March 11) would be against the Phillies on March 16, with the potential to face bigger bats in Bryce Harper or Didi Gregorious as a test against some more big-league hitters.
While he has only appeared in two games this spring, one does wonder if Roark will be able to keep the momentum going into the regular season and pitch like he was brought in to do. He came into the new year ten pounds lighter and with a fresh perspective after a rough 2020 campaign. Hopefully he’s put the bad fastball that dogged his first year in a Blue Jays uniform behind him, and with a flesh slate into a 2021 season where he can keep his ERA low, and the innings pitched closer to his career norms.