"It felt good," said Tanner Roark of his last start, which came on July 26 against the Stockton Ports. "I felt like I was pounding the zone. At times I would be a little too fine – trying to just guide the ball in there and not actually just throwing it and pitching. But I felt good overall."
In that outing, Roark surrendered four runs – two earned – on five hits in four innings pitched. He walked one and struck out four.
Roark, who delivers the ball at a high three-quarters arm angle, was throwing his fastball in the 88-90 mph range during the start. He also flashed an upper-70s changeup and a promising curveball.
The right-hander actually entered the Rangers' system throwing a slider as his primary breaking pitch, but he has since scrapped that for a curve.
"When I was down in the AZL, that's when I started working on [the curveball]," he said. "I felt like it got better than my slider. The curveball is off a slider or vice versa, so it should be easy to pick up and get back."
Although Roark currently prefers his curveball, he would like to develop the slider as a fourth offering in the near future.
"I felt like I have more control of my curveball because I feel like I stay on it better," he said. "It has just got good break, so I'm sticking with that. But I want to develop a slider now – get it better."
Considering the pitch is less than two months old, Roark showed impressive command of his breaking ball. But A's prospect Josh Donaldson showed it wasn't perfect when he launched a hanging curveball for a two-run homer in the third inning.
"The one [pitch] that makes me mad the most is the 0-2 curveball when I gave up that home run," Roark said. "I think I just tried to throw it too hard and I got around it. That's what left it up over the plate for them to hit. But that's the only thing I was mad about – I felt like I was getting on top of it."
Like most right-handed pitchers, Roark prefers to use his breaking ball against righties while focusing on his changeup against lefties. With a Ports lineup that featured six left-handed hitters, Roark spent much of the night relying on his changeup. Even though he threw the pitch quite a bit, he wasn't quite satisfied with the results.
|Roark was a 25th round pick in this year's draft. b>|
The 21-year-old initially reported to the rookie-level AZL [Arizona League] Rangers after being selected in the 25th round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Roark was a bit of an oddity in that he was not currently attending school at the time of the draft.
After pitching two seasons at the University of Illinois – and being an All-Big 10 selection as a sophomore in 2007 – Roark left the school due to academic issues. He then joined the independent Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League. Roark worked as a starting pitcher, going 0-2 with a 21.41 ERA in 9.2 innings.
In 27 innings between the AZL and High-A Bakersfield, Roark has posted a 2.00 ERA. He has surrendered just 22 hits while walking 10 and striking out 27. The Illinois native believes experience is part of the reason for his recent success, but he also credits the Rangers' developmental staff.
"Independent ball is more doing it on your own and more laid back," said Roark. "Here, they are more structured and I like it a lot better. They let you know what is going on."
With such impressive numbers – including a 3.07 ERA since his promotion to Bakersfield – Roark is predictably enjoying his first professional season.
"I feel pretty confident and I feel like I have been doing pretty well," he said. "Plus, a lot of that has to do with the defense behind me and the offense hitting and everything. I have been working hard and trying to make my dream to be up in the Major Leagues someday."
Roark worked as a relief pitcher in the AZL before making two starts with High-A Bakersfield. The pitcher believes he will stay in the bullpen now that Omar Poveda is healthy, but he's not exactly sure what will happen.
"I got into the AZL and started relieving there, so Chavy [Bakersfield pitching coach Dave Chavarria] asked me if I had started before and I said yes. I was just filling in for Poveda, because of his finger. Who knows where I will be now."
The Rangers initially planned on keeping Roark in Bakersfield for just over a week, but Roark's recent success appears to have caused a change of plans.
"It would be great if I could keep staying here," said Roark, who pitched in his first High-A game on July 17. "I heard that I was supposed to only stay here eight to 10 days. I just want to keep working hard and keep going at guys. Hopefully I get a chance to stay here, maybe go to Double-A, or whatever. Just whatever they have for me, I'll take."
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