NEW YORK - Right-hander Tanner Roark struggled early but then settled in to finish five innings Friday night. But the Nationals could not solve right-hander Noah Syndergaard and two relievers in a 4-2 loss at Citi Field.
Once again, the Nats fall back to .500, at 47-47. With the Phillies 2-0 shutout of the Marlins, the Nats deficit in the division has reached 6 1/2 games.
Roark (3-12) started the game by allowing three consecutive singles. José Bautista’s RBI single highlighted a three-run first frame for the Mets. Following a leadoff triple by Amed Rosario in the second, Syndergaard helped his own cause with a run-scoring single.
The Nats offense set up several innings nicely, but could never get the timely hit or hits to ignite a big inning, going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranding eight runners on base.
Roark’s triple and Wilmer Difo’s single cut into the Mets’ lead, making it 3-1 in the third.
But the Nats ran themselves out of what could have been a bigger inning. Later in that frame, with Difo at second base, Adam Eaton drove a ball that went straight to Amed Rosario in the shift. The shortstop was positioned right near second base, and he fired to Bautista, who tagged Difo out at third base.
Nationals manager Davey Martinez said Difo should have made sure where Rosario was lined up before heading to third base.
“Something where he needs to take a look to see where the shortstop’s playing,” Martinez said. “If he does that, he goes back to second base. I know he’s trying to play aggressive, trying to get to third, but you’ve got to be patient. In that situation, you’re down, let’s not run into outs.”
But possibly the most emblematic play of the night for the Nats arrived in the fifth. With two men on and one out, Bryce Harper grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and appeared to not run to first base with maximum effort.
After the game, Martinez said he was well aware of the play, and said he would talk with Harper about the effort on that ground ball when he visits with him Saturday.
“That’s a conversation Bryce and I will have tomorrow,” Martinez said. “He didn’t run that ball out the way I want him to, so we’ll talk about that tomorrow.
“I got no beef with Bryce. Bryce comes every day to play. Try to get him days off, he doesn’t want days off. He tries to win. He wants to win. That’s who he is. So, like I said, we’ll have a conversation about it tomorrow.”
Martinez said Harper’s slow jog to first base wasn’t because he was dogging it. Martinez said he believes it was more disappointment because Harper thought that, the way he hit the ball, so much more was going to happen.
“I just think out of frustration,” Martinez said. “He hit the ball hard, he crushed the ball, and it was going to be a double play.”
But after those first two innings, the game turned into a fairly positive step for Roark. He finished five frames, allowing four runs on eight hits with two walks and five strikeouts. He settled down after a rocky first two frames to post three scoreless innings in a row.
“Yeah. I felt good,” said Roark. “I felt behind the ball, which is how I pitch effectively. If the arm is lagging behind just a hair, then everything’s up. So, I settled down throughout the next second, third, fourth, fifth inning and felt better.”
Catcher Matt Wieters thought Roark did a nice job of settling in after the Mets got to him early.
“I thought he threw the ball well all night,” Wieters said. “That first inning was not really too many hard-hit balls, just some balls that were over our gloves. Really, the second inning, I thought we made maybe the first two pitches that inning were a little bit of a mistake. Too much plate or not quite enough sink on it.
“But other than that, I thought he threw the ball great. He kept us in the game, and you know those first hits for him, that’s more Tanner. He’s going to be attacking the zone. He threw a lot of strikes and we just couldn’t quite score enough runs for him.”
Roark said that after he allowed six hits in the first two innings, he was determined to not let the game get away from him, as has happened in some of his other recent starts.
“It’s kind of how the first half’s been going,” Roark said. “So just gotta keep going. Starters are supposed to go out there and give the team a chance to win every time. Despite what happens in your game, you just have to go out there and not give in and keep going. Keep plugging away. Keep fighting, scratching, whatever it takes.”
Despite the loss, Martinez said, the recovery was something that Roark can build on.
“Absolutely. Regardless of the first two innings, he pitched well, really well,” Martinez said. “That’s progress, and it’s good for us. If he continues to do that, we’re going to be in good shape.”
“I really believe he just slowed down a little bit, and he started pitching. He looked great. I told him, I just said right now ‘Great job. You did well.’”
Matt Adams hit a solo homer in the eighth to slice the Mets advantage again, to 4-2. It was his 14th homer of the season.