The Nationals earned a much-needed 4-1 win over the Braves Sunday to split the series between the top two teams in the National League East.
Craig Stammen got five outs in relief to help the cause and said the Nationals are too good to not be able to stay competitive with the Braves, despite their recent struggles in the series.
“I think the odds were in our favor to finally win a game against them,” Stammen said. “Two in a row is definitely good, we were able to split with them in a four-game series. With a four-game series this part of the season, that’s probably OK. We would like to win the series, but after we lost the first two, winning the last two is big.
“We were getting frustrated not being able to play our best baseball against them. I think they showed a little frustration at the end of the game. We know this race is going down to the very end. So we got to play them tough as many times as we can.”
Said left fielder Ryan Zimmerman: “That’s obviously a really good team over there that has had our number last year and a half, two years. This is a step in the right direction. But they’re still a really good team. I really don’t think they’re going anywhere. We’re going to have to continue to play well against them if we want to get where we want to go.”
Tanner Roark was solid, going 5 1/3 innings and allowing only one run. In his last nine starts, Roark has allowed two earned runs or less in eight of those games.
“He did a great job battling,” Stammen said. “He wasn’t getting the calls he was looking for from the umpires, whether they were strikes or balls. But he battled back, didn’t show any emotion, kept coming at them throwing whatever pitch he thought was best. He got us into the sixth inning. He probably could have pitched a little longer, but the bullpen came in and did a good job.”
Second baseman Danny Espinosa was also impressed with Roark.
“I thought he did all-around really well,” Espinosa said. “I thought he located his fastball well, he was throwing hard. Had a good changeup, really good slider. All-around, I thought Tanner did a really good job, keeping a good pace to the game and throwing strikes.”
Said Zimmerman: “He has been great all year, especially your No. 5 guy. If he can give you that type of outing pretty much every time like he has this year, it is a huge boost to the rotation.”
Espinosa battled in the series, generating five hits, including a couple of bunt singles to get on base. He knows the importance of winning two in a row against a team like the Braves.
“It’s a tough team. They have good pitching, good hitting,” Espinosa said. “Good all-around ballclub. So to come out after losing the first two and be able to split this series and be able to maintain the lead, even though it’s early, is a good feeling.
“It was good for us to win these last two games. They were all close games, and they were good games. It’s not going to be easy playing them ever. There’s going to be tough wins, some good wins. There’s going to be some tough losses. But it’s a real good team over there and we have to continue to play our game.”
Roark was lifted in the sixth inning after the Braves had scored a run and had two men on. Despite a high pitch count (96 pitches), Roark wanted to continue to get guys out.
“I wanted to stay in. But overall, I felt it was a decent outing,” Roark said. “My slider was really working today, that was my big out-pitch today.
“We came out early and we hit the ball and scored some runs. That’s always weight off your shoulders. I went out there and pitched with confidence. Like I said, my slider was my out-pitch today and that was really working today.”
Roark said they looked to take advantage of the Braves’ aggressiveness at the plate. Catcher Sandy Leon and Roark knew the slider was biting well, so they went to it more.
“I know they like to swing early. They like fastballs,” Roark said. “The feel of the slider in the bullpen felt unbelievable. So just threw it a lot. Me and Sandy are on the same page a lot and that helped a lot too with rhythm.”
The Braves had two batters ejected for arguing with umpires - Chris Johnson and Justin Upton. Even some of Roark’s pitches could have been called strikes rather than balls. But Roark kept his emotions in check.
“You can never get mad at umpires,” Roark said. “You get frustrated with yourself. For me, they are going to call balls and strikes. And I’ll just worry about pitching. We came out with a win. I am happy with that.”