3/3/2014 5:14 P.M. ET
Roark out to show he's no one-summer wonder
By Jim Hawkins / Special to MLB.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tanner Roark has been dreaming about pitching in the Major Leagues since he was 4 years old. Last season, suddenly, his dream came true.
Now the 27-year-old right-hander would like to prove to the Nationals and to the baseball world that last summer's performance was no fluke.
Roark, who is competing with Ross Detwiler and Taylor Jordan for the fifth spot in the rotation, or a place in the bullpen as a long reliever, pitched the third and fourth innings on Monday and faced the minimum six batters, limiting the Yankees to two singles. Both runners were erased, one via a double play and the other trying to stretch a single into a double.
"Today, for his first outing, he was in the zone good," said manager Matt Williams. "That was what we saw last year. More of the same."
The difference this spring is that Roark is definitely competing for a roster spot.
"It's different, but I try not to think about it at all," Roark said. "If you fill your head with that kind of stuff, it can be negative for you. I don't want to try to ... do too much."
Pitching coach Steve McCatty declined to declare that any of the three rotation contenders has the inside track.
"We'll see how it shakes out," McCatty said. "We've got some real depth there.
"Roark has good velocity and outstanding command. Jordan has got great stuff. And he's got a [great] changeup. I just try to stay out of the way. I've fallen into a great situation."
After bouncing around the Minors for six frustrating years, Roark -- who was drafted by the Rangers in the 25th round in 2008 and acquired by the Nats in a 2010 trade for Cristian Guzman -- was finally summoned to the big leagues for the first time late last season, and he surprised everyone by posting a 7-1 record down the stretch.
Only two National League hurlers who worked at least 50 innings -- relievers Craig Kimbrel and Mark Melancon -- posted better ERAs than Roark's 1.51.
"It was really, really impressive," said McCatty, who added, "Could anybody pitch those numbers over a whole season?"
Despite result, Detwiler pleased with start
TAMPA, Fla. -- Considering the fact that Monday was the first time left-hander Ross Detwiler had faced Major League players since going on the disabled list last July, he couldn't help but feel pleased with his performance, abbreviated and rocky though it was.
Manager Matt Williams agrees.
"It didn't go the way he wanted it to, but I thought it went well despite the outcome," Williams said. "The results aren't always going to be there in the spring."
"It's been a while. I got a little excited out there," said Detwiler, who threw the first 1 1/3 innings of the previously unbeaten Nationals' 4-2 loss to the Yankees. "I was a little amped out there."
Detwiler cruised through the first inning, retiring the Yankees in order and catching Brett Gardner and Brian McCann looking at called third strikes.
The second inning, however, was another matter, as the Yanks sent six men to the plate and scored four times before Detwiler could get anyone out.
When he struck out Gardner again for the first out, with runners on first and third and four runs in, Williams waved to the bullpen for Danny Rosenbaum, ending Detwiler's efforts for the sunny afternoon.
"I lost my command a little bit in the second inning," Detwiler said.
The addition of Doug Fister during the offseason pushed Detwiler into a competition with Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Last season, Detwiler, who turns 28 on Thursday, threw his fastball about 88 percent of the time. Coaches have suggested that a cutter would work well with his delivery, even though he has struggled when he has tried to throw it in the past.
"I'm out there competing, not just working on stuff," he said. In this outing he threw one cutter and one changeup, and he isn't sure how many curveballs he used.
"I have no idea -- at least four," he said.
But according to Williams, "He mixed in nine curveballs, which was good. I don't think he gave up a hit on his curveball."
"Det's going to do what Det's going to do," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "He knows he's got to mix up his pitches more. A lot of times, it's tough to change your way of thinking. But he's got the ability. Det does a lot of things real good. He can do it, no doubt about that."
Detwiler, who missed the final three months of the 2013 season because of a back injury, and later underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk, went 2-7 in 2013, with a 4.04 ERA in 71 1/3 innings, and he definitely has an edge on the other candidates when it comes to Major League experience.
"It factors in a lot," Williams said. "He knows the league, and he knows the hitters."
"Last year was kind of an offseason for him," McCatty said. "He hurt his back early and battled through the pain. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore."
If Detwiler doesn't win a spot in the rotation, he will likely be moved to the bullpen.
Strasburg to throw two innings in spring debut
TAMPA, Fla. -- Stephen Strasburg, who is coming off October surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, will make his 2014 spring debut on Tuesday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Manager Matt Williams said on Monday that Strasburg will be limited to two innings, regardless of how well he performs.
"We're not going to push him to three at this point, regardless of the pitch count," Williams said. "Right now it's just a matter of arm strength and getting everybody going. Once we get to four or five innings and arms start to get tired, then we'll get a better evaluation."
Strasburg has been tinkering with adding a slider to his repertoire. He believes the pitch will help him throw inside to left-handed hitters.
The 25-year-old right-hander, who went 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA last season, has previously relied primarily on a fastball, curve and changeup.
• Xavier Cedeno and Christian Garcia, who are battling for a berth in the bullpen, both saw their second action of the spring on Monday. Cedeno pitched a scoreless fifth inning, allowing one hit, and Garcia yielded a double and a walk but no runs in the sixth.
Of Garcia, Williams said, "I think he was a little more comfortable, a little more calmed down out there today."
• Bryce Harper (flu-like symptoms) and Jayson Werth (strained right biceps) remained behind in Viera, Fla., on Monday.
"Bryce wanted to come on the trip," Williams said. "I told him to stay back and take it easy. I plan to bring him [to Lake Buena Vista] tomorrow.
"Jayson is going through his progressions. When we get back, we'll see where he's at."
• Unlike most Major League managers, Williams gets together with his coaching staff each day when he makes out his starting lineup, making it a joint effort.
"I encourage them to express their opinion," said Williams, who plans to continue the practice when the regular season begins.
"I don't have 20 years experience," he said.
• Zach Walters is no longer perfect. He went 1-for-2 on Monday, dropping his average to .857. He did, however, belt his first home run of the spring, over the center-field fence near the 408-foot mark. Meanwhile, Danny Espinosa is hitless after going 0-for-2, although he did reach base twice. He was hit by a pitch and reached safely on an error.
• As expected, Gio Gonzalez will make his first start of spring on Wednesday in Viera against the Mets.
Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.