Liz Barr: Nationals rotation getting back on track

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Nationals are still finding out who they are. The road has been a little bit rocky, but of late, the starting pitching seems to have found its footing, and over the last week, the pitchers have been dynamite and have been doing their best to lead the Nationals to success.

It all started with Tanner Roark turning it around and having one of the best games of his life. After working with the now-traded Brandon Kintzler on his pitches, Roark faced the Brewers and went eight innings, gave up no runs, three hits, walked one and struck out a whopping 11. Roark followed up his stellar start with another one Tuesday night. On a night the Nationals scored 25 runs, Roark stood tall, going seven innings, giving up one run (a solo home run) on four hits, walking no one and striking out seven - not to mention the fact that he had two hits and drove in three runs.

In his last two starts, Roark has pitched 15 innings and has only given up a lone run. The Nationals have desperately needed this from him, and his great starts could not have come at a better time. It looks like he not only got himself back on track, but maybe his work will inspire the rest of the starting staff to get back on track, as well.

A couple of the starters certainly followed in Roark’s footsteps. Max Scherzer, in the hunt for a third straight Cy Young, hurled a gem against Miami on Friday, going eight innings, giving up one run (unearned) on three hits, walking one and striking out 11, getting himself a hit and scoring a run in the process. Scherzer looked to be dominating again, and if he’s pitching like that, it can only mean good things for the Nationals.

Gio Gonzalez also had a very nice start his last time out, though a lack of offense meant he was not rewarded with a win. On Saturday against Miami, a team he has historically pitched well against, he went seven innings and gave up one run on just three hits. He did walk four batters and only struck out four, but he pitched well enough to allow the team to win. However, as the Nationals were only able to muster up just one run, Gonzalez was stuck with a no-decision as the Marlins walked off in extras. Still, an encouraging start from Gonzalez, who looked comfortable for the majority of the game. If he can clean up the walks, then the future looks very positive.

The road was not as kind to Tommy Milone and Jeremy Hellickson. Milone, in his first major league start of the year, did not actually do that badly; he gave up three runs, but they were all in the first inning, and he settled down after that, able to finish up his day going five innings and striking out six batters while walking none. Not really anything to write home about, but considering the bad starts the starters have been putting out the past couple of weeks, doing a manageable job and eating up innings is welcome. It also helped that the Nats managed to scratch out 10 runs that game and give Milone and the bullpen a cushion. Milone isn’t a long-term solution, but the spot start was more helpful than hurtful.

Hellickson, on the other hand, struggled. The Nats were already wary of letting him go deep into the game, and he did not manage to do so on Sunday; Hellickson only pitched 4 2/3 innings, gave up five runs (three earned) on eight hits, struck out four and walked none. While the bullpen held firm, it had to eat a lot of innings. But the relievers also were not helped by the offense, which was shut out that game. Hellickson still has some things to work on, and it’s unknown if he’ll ever be able to get deep into a ballgame.

Though there were certainly some bumps in the road, the starters seem to be getting it back on track. If they can do that, the prospects for the Nationals can only look up. The starting staff carried the team for the first month or so of the season, and if it can return to that, the rest of the team could slide back into place, and perhaps start clicking and get on a hot streak.

Liz Barr blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @RaiseTheBarr1. Her opinions on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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