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Johnson: Wilmington alum flirts with perfection

Whenever the tickers on the bottom of the screens on the sports channels say a pitcher – any pitcher – is perfect through five innings, it gets my attention.

Saturday, when the name attached to the alerts was Tanner Roark, you better believe that I was interested.

Roark was a standout at Wilmington High School. Although Wilmington falls just outside of the Morris Daily Herald’s coverage area, the Wildcats play our teams often enough that I know I saw Roark pitch for them a time or two.

He was a great high school pitcher, and his success continued at the University of Illinois. Even so, he wasn’t a huge prospect after leaving the Fighting Illini; he spent time with the Southern Illinois Miners in the Frontier League before being drafted in the 25th round by the Texas Rangers. He was traded by Washington in 2010, and he toiled in the Nationals’ system from then until getting called up last year.

It’s safe to say Roark made the most of his opportunity. He went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA and a 40-11 strikeout-walk ratio in the big leagues in 2013. During Saturday’s game, the Padres broke up his perfect game with a sixth-inning single, but he still threw a complete-game shutout. Roark is 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA in five starts this season.

“It’s definitely humbling to come out here and compete like I know I can compete at this level,” Roark said after the game, according to the Washington Post. “It feels really good. A game like today keeps building your confidence even more.”

I don’t know how long Roark can keep this up to the tune of a 1.98 career big-league ERA – “I just don’t want to jinx myself,” Roark told the Post – but it’s been fun to watch so far. And he certainly has got some room to regress to the mean and still be a successful major leaguer.

Here’s a quick look at how some other local professional pitchers have fared in the first few weeks of their seasons (all statistics are through Sunday):

• Zach Petrick of Morris already has earned a promotion. He made three starts for Double-A Springfield in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and he

picked up where he left off in 2013, going 2-0 with an 0.48 ERA and a 15-5 K-BB ratio in three starts. At Triple-A Memphis, Petrick has struggled a bit in two starts, losing once and compiling a 5.73 ERA and a 7-6 K-BB ratio.

• Mike Foltynewicz of Minooka is pitching for the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. In six appearances (three starts), Foltynewicz is 2-1 with a 5.85 ERA and a 16-9 K-BB ratio. Foltynewicz’s best work has come lately, however. Two of his last three outings have been starts, in which he’s gone five innings and allowed just one run.

• Tony Bucciferro of Minooka has been solid for Class A-advanced Winston-Salem in the Chicago White Sox organization. Bucciferro is 1-2 with a 3.20 ERA in four starts. The remarkable ability that Bucciferro showed to avoid walks in 2013 is still present. He’s walked just one batter, while striking out 13, this season.

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