Roark stays with USA; Zimmerman snaps skid (Nats lose 8-2)

NATIONALS QUICK WRAP

Score: Astros 8, Nationals 2

Recap: A.J. Cole was roughed up by the Houston lineup, allowing seven runs on six hits and three walks over 3 2/3 innings. Cole allowed a pair of homers (to Brian McCann and Jon Kemmer) and also walked in a run while throwing 73 total pitches. ... The Nationals scored two runs in the top of the second thanks to Ryan Zimmerman’s infield single, Michael A. Taylor’s triple to right-center and Stephen Drew’s RBI single to left.

Need to know: Zimmerman snapped his 0-for-17 spring slump with a 2-for-3 afternoon. In addition to his infield single on a chopper down the third base line, he also sent a laser to deep right field that eluded a diving Kemmer for a double.

On deck: Thursday vs. Mets in West Palm Beach, 1:05 p.m.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Nationals will be without Tanner Roark a while longer.

Despite an initial plan to rejoin his club after the first round of the World Baseball Classic, Roark has decided to stay with Team USA, which opens second-round play tonight in San Diego.

The right-hander, who pitched in relief for the Americans during their March 11 loss to the Dominican Republic in Miami, is slated to throw another inning out of the bullpen tonight against Venezuela, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. Baker said he also was told Roark will “get a start in a few days.”

Team USA is scheduled to play Puerto Rico on Friday, then the Dominican Republic again on Saturday. If the Americans advance out of this pool, they’d head to Los Angeles for the championship round next Monday-Wednesday.

Tanner-Roark-throw-white-sidebar.jpgWith Roark away from camp, and with Max Scherzer so far only facing teammates while recovering from a stress fracture in his ring finger, the Nationals have been forced to cobble together their spring training rotation. A.J. Cole, who is starting today’s game against the Astros, has been making regular turns with the returning veterans. Non-roster invitees like Erick Fedde, Jeremy Guthrie and Kyle McGowin have also been making starts.

While Roark’s absence isn’t necessarily ideal for the Nationals, Baker isn’t holding that against him.

“He went there for a purpose,” Baker said. “We thought he was going to go one and done and then come back home. But he wants to stay. They need him. And that’s the kind of guy Tanner is.”

Two other Nationals who played in the WBC but were eliminated over the weekend (Mexico’s Oliver Pérez, Colombia’s Jhonatan Solano) have returned to West Palm Beach and are back in uniform today.

Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman entered today’s game 0-for-17 this spring, an inauspicious start to an important year for the veteran first baseman. It’s not what anyone wanted on the heels of a season in which Zimmerman hit .218, but Baker likes his approach at the plate and takes more from that than the results.

“I’ve seen more aggressiveness,” the manager said. “But I’ve always said it takes the older guys longer to get it. Right now he’s 0-for-the-spring, but he’s on the attack. When you get to a certain point in your career, you tend to look for pitches and sit on pitches. Right now, he’s facing a lot of people that you don’t know, and a lot of people that might not be here. And the people you do know, you’re facing (Justin) Verlander, (who started for the Tigers on Monday).”

Zimmerman did finally get on the board in his first at-bat today, when he legged out a chopper to deep third base for his first hit of the spring. Whether that gets him going remains to be seen, but again, Baker isn’t all that worried as long as Zimmerman isn’t.

“He’s healthy and in great shape,” Baker said. “As long as his confidence stays up. That’s the main thing that’s hard to see and hard to judge. Zim has such a demeanor, you don’t really know when he’s overly happy or when he’s sad.”

Update: It was a rough afternoon for Cole, who wasn’t able to duplicate his no-hit form from his last time out. The right-hander was torched by the Astros for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, including a pair of homers.

The first, hit by Brian McCann, might have fallen just short of the fence. But Bryce Harper, who tried to make a leaping catch, actually tipped the ball over the wall. The second homer, by Jon Kemmer, was a no-doubter, a three-run bomb onto the right field berm.

Cole seemed to hit a wall in the bottom of the third, during which he gave up five runs (one of them coming on a bases-loaded walk). He wound up throwing 73 pitches, only 44 of them for strikes.

The Nationals trail 7-2 after five innings, having scored both of their runs in the top of the second via back-to-back RBI hits by Michael A. Taylor and Stephen Drew.

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