Roark rides two-seamer to victory over Braves

It's his bread-and-butter pitch, the kind of pitch that helped make him such a revelation in 2014 but also eluded him during his disappointing 2015. Well, it was back tonight, and if Tanner Roark can keep firing those comeback, two-seam fastballs over the inside corner to left-handed hitters ... well, the Nationals might just have themselves another frontline starter again this year.

"That's a tough pitch," manager Dusty Baker said. "It looks like a ball, and by the time you see it, it's a strike and your only hope is that the umpire can call it a ball."

Tanner-Roark-throw-white-sidebar.jpgRoark got the strike call on his two-seamer all night long, a critical aspect of his dominant, seven-inning performance that led the Nationals to a 3-0 victory over the Braves.

Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, trying anything he could to get his winless club on track, loaded up his lineup with seven left-handed hitters tonight. Little did he know he was playing right into Roark's hands.

Roark threw 87 pitches to lefties in this game, 57 of them two-seamers, according to And eight of those wound up as called strikes on the inner-third of the plate, including strikeouts of Mallex Smith, Freddie Freeman and Kelly Johnson.

"I've got to pitch my game," Roark said. "You can't let a plethora of lefties just make your game switch. You've got to keep going at them, keep attacking and pitch inside."

It can be a dangerous plan of attack because the margin for error is razor-thin.

"You've got to make sure you get it in there," Roark said. "It's got to come in looking like a ball and then come back. If it starts off as a strike and then goes back over the middle, that's when you get hurt."

Roark did other things well in this game, too. He mixed in some effective changeups and curveballs. He fielded his position well. He worked at a brisk pace, resulting in a nine-inning game that was completed in a scant 2 hours and 12 minutes.

And he did all this on a night he wasn't even supposed to take the mound. Originally scheduled to start Thursday afternoon's series finale, Roark was pushed up a day after Stephen Strasburg came down with an illness this week.

He still was pitching on a full, five days' rest, so fatigue was no issue. But on the heels of a rocky season debut in last Thursday's home opener, this was a nice return to form for Roark.

"I still felt strong and ready to go," he said. "I got a good night's sleep and was ready to go."

Roark hardly broke a sweat on a 56-degree evening. The only times the Braves threatened came in the top of the second - they loaded the bases without hitting the ball out of the infield but didn't score - and the top of the fifth - they had runners on second and third when Roark struck out Freeman to end the inning.

That key strikeout of Freeman came on a (you guessed right) two-seamer on the inside corner.

"All the lefties saw that pitch on their ribs, and it comes back to the corner," catcher Wilson Ramos said. "That's really, really hard to hit that pitch. That's good, man."

It resembled, quite frankly, a certain Hall of Famer's trademark pitch. A slight right-hander who spent much of his career in a Braves uniform. A guy whose brother just so happens to be the Nationals' new pitching coach.

"He loves the ride-back to lefties," Roark said of Mike Maddux, who saw that pitch firsthand from his brother, Greg.

He'll love it even more if Roark keeps throwing it like this all season.

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