Tanner Roark might’ve walked the first batter of Wednesday’s sweep-avoiding 4-3 win over the Marlins, but he was exceptional from there.
Roark allowed just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out seven in seven innings. The Nationals right-hander has held opponents to exactly one run in seven innings in each of his last four starts for a sparkling 1.29 ERA and a personal four-game winning streak.
It also marked the Nats’ sixth straight start of at least seven innings with two earned runs or fewer.
“We’re pushing toward winning the NL East. So it’s fun to watch all of our starters start and all of our pitchers pitch,” Roark said. “It’s fun to watch this team, especially when you get four days off and you’re watching from the dugout. It’s pretty impressive to see all the starters doing well and our team just put the ball all over the place. It’s fun to watch. It’s exciting.”
Said reliever Drew Storen: “Those guys have been carrying us all year and recently they’ve been even better. Everybody’s been commanding the ball in and out, commanding their off-speed and getting the ball down in the zone and utilizing our defense. So it’s been fun to watch.”
As noted above, Roark didn’t have the smoothest beginning to his outing, as he walked the leadoff batter. But he let only four men reach base thereafter.
“In the first inning, I felt, I don’t know - I wasn’t finishing my pitches like I wanted to, wasn’t hitting my spots like I wanted to,” Roark said. “But after that first inning, I felt like I got locked in and just stayed through the ball a lot better and finished the pitches and trusted (Wilson Ramos) back there, and had a good game.”
Roark went into detail about how he adjusts in-game. He said his biggest tell that something’s off is when he pulls back and falls off the mound to the first base side at times.
“That’s when I know, ‘OK, I have to go throw an inside fastball to a righty. I’ve really got to attack the hitter and go inside and not leave it over the middle of the plate,’ ” he said. “And that’s the biggest adjustment for me, keeping the front side up. ...
“I think that and just not breaking my hands at the right point. When I’m bringing my leg down, sometimes I’ll rush a little bit and that’s what keeps my hands, my arm not from getting up and I’ll be falling over the side. So that’s my biggest thing that I notice.”
It has been a process learning how to make those adjustments during a start.
“It’s been a long road. I’ll tell you that,” Roark said. “But I learned each start, just muscle memory and just (know) what you’re doing. Like after the first inning, ‘All right, I know what I’m doing. Here’s what I need to do to correct it.’ It’s been a long road, but just learning and trying to learn from myself, too. ... It’s mental and you’ve just got to go with the flow and learn from it.”
Shortstop Ian Desmond was impressed with what he saw from Roark.
“Tanner’s great. I think it was pretty evident that he didn’t have his best stuff today, not his normal control, but he did a great job,” Desmond said. “All our guys have been doing a really good job and this is the time of year where we’re going to need them.”
Desmond saw a few things in Roark performing well despite not having his best arsenal.
“I think first, it’s poise and then you’ve got to have a little self-awareness when you’re out there,” Desmond said. “Usually he’s relying heavily on that sinker in, but today it wasn’t there, so he went away from it and used his other pitches. You can’t keep trying to find it if it isn’t there and you’ve got to move on. But we’ve been high on him ever since last year. We really believe in him and we think he’s one of the best.”
Aside from Roark, the Nats needed a three-run eighth to break a 1-1 tie and put themselves in position to win. Pinch-hitter Scott Hairston started it with a double. Denard Span then bunted for a base hit to put men on the corners, and stole second the next at-bat.
Pinch-runner Nate McLouth scored on a Jayson Werth sac fly and Span moved up to third on a wild pitch with Adam LaRoche at the plate. LaRoche walked and both runners scored on a Desmond two-run double.
“It goes back to what we were talking about yesterday when we were talking about (Ryan Zimmerman) and Werth being out of the lineup, and how our bench is so deep,” Desmond said. “Not only Scott coming up and delivering a big double, (Danny Espinosa) had a good day, McLouth comes in and pinch-runs - one of the best baserunners in the league, especially as a fourth guy. Just a great game all around, especially from some of the guys that we’re going to need down the stretch.”
With the Nats ahead 4-1, the ninth inning proved to be dicey with closer Rafael Soriano getting the day off and Storen coming on for the save. Storen said he knew Soriano wouldn’t pitch, so he was prepared mentally even if it wasn’t his best performance.
The Nats had to be having flashbacks of two nights earlier when the Marlins completed a comeback from down 6-0 to win 7-6. Giancarlo Stanton led off Wednesday’s ninth with a homer and Adeiny Hechavarria pulled the Marlins within one on a two-out RBI double.
But Storen got Reed Johnson to ground out and strand two men on to end the game.
“Ugly. Got it done. That’s really the main thing. It’s about winning the game, getting the save there,” Storen said, describing the ninth.
Storen felt like he was battling in the ninth.
“I mean, yeah. But I hit my spots and Giancarlo is one of the few guys in the league that can do that,” Storen said. “And then (Marcell Ozuna) just kind of found a hole. Just one of those things. That stuff happened in the ninth inning, but it’s about getting it done. That’s all that matters. ...
“(When bad things happen,) you’ve just got to start over and pitch. That stuff’s going to happen in the ninth inning. You can’t let it snowball and like I said, it’s not always going to be pretty, but just getting it done. “
The win helped the Nats avoid a three-game sweep in Miami and complete a 5-4 road trip.
“It’s big. It was a long trip and we’ve played on the road a lot this month,” Storen said. “It was kind a weird road trip, too. But for us to come in, get a game here in the last game of the series, it’s big for us because things haven’t really gone that well in the last couple days. So you’ve got to salvage one.”
Said Desmond: “It’s always good to win road trips. We played well, we battled some stuff, we kind of endured. It was definitely a long road trip and we’re excited to get home and see our own fans.”
And now the Nats head back to D.C. for an eight-game homestand. The Nats haven’t been home since a series against the Brewers from July 18-20. They’ve played only three of their last 17 games at Nats Park.
“That’s going to be really nice,” Storen said. “Long road trip, and like I said, we’ve been on the road all month, so to get home and sleep in your own bed and get back to that home routine’s going to be very nice.”