Roark tosses five scoreless, lowers ERA to 0.64 (Nats blank Cardinals)


Score: Nationals 7, Cardinals 0

Recap: After torrential rain and lightning washed out Friday night's game against the Marlins, the Nationals returned to Roger Dean Stadium today face the complex's other tenants, and then proceeded to drub the Cardinals. Tanner Roark and relievers Felipe Rivero, Sean Burnett, Matt Belisle and Aaron Laffey combined to shut out a St. Louis lineup that included Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. At the plate, the Nationals rode Ryan Zimmerman's homer and RBI groundout, plus two more hits from Michael A. Taylor, to take a commanding lead on Mike Leake. They also took advantage of the Cardinals' sloppy infield defense, which was charged with four errors during a three-inning stretch. Put that all together and the Nats improved to a Grapefruit League-best 16-4-2.

Need to know: Danny Espinosa's offensive shortcomings are well-known. But the Nationals appear willing to live with that in exchange for his elite defensive skills at shortstop. Espinosa showed them off today, making a couple of highlight-reel plays that included a backhanded stop of Tommy Pham's sharp grounder to the hole in the bottom of the second. Still moving toward the left field corner, Espinosa jumped and fired across the body, hitting first baseman Zimmerman on the fly to get Pham by a step and leave the crowd applauding. That's the kind of play that makes Espinosa a valuable member of the lineup, even if he doesn't hit as much as most would prefer.

On deck: Sunday, split-squad vs. Braves in Viera,1:05 p.m.; split-squad vs. Mets in Port St. Lucie, 1:05 p.m.

JUPITER, Fla. - He has gone mostly unnoticed this spring, just quietly going about his job. But as the end of camp draws near, it's time to notice Tanner Roark. Because he has pitched like a guy who wants to be noticed.

Roark put it all together in this afternoon's start against the Cardinals, tossing five scoreless innings to reduce his Grapefruit League ERA to a microscopic 0.64.

roark-pitching-red-sidebar.jpgThe right-hander was far from perfect, putting eight men on base during his five innings and piling up an elevated pitch count of 90. But he made several key pitches when he needed to - he struck out Randal Grichuk, Matt Carpenter and Brandon Moss with runners in scoring position - and benefited from some nifty defense behind him.

"They're a good-hitting ballclub, and we had some great defense behind me, for sure," Roark said. "But all in all, just really have to bear down and get that guy at the plate when it's first and second, first and third (with) one out. You've really got to bear down and get that guy."

Roark has always pitched with a combination of stuff and guile. The latter attribute has stood out most to Dusty Baker in his first spring watching the right-hander up close, especially today as he wriggled his way out of four straight jams.

"I told (pitching coach) Mike (Maddux) on the bench: 'Houdini just got out of another one,' " Baker said. "Everybody can't do that. You don't win 15 games. I don't understand how you win 15 and go to the bullpen. He said he wanted to start. I said: 'Hey, that's what you want? Then go get it.' Has he given up anything this spring?"

Not much. Roark allowed one run to the Braves on March 12, but that's it in 14 innings this spring. Despite all that, he has been a bit under the radar. His most recent start came in a minor league game, so he hadn't taken the mound against a big league opponent in 14 days. No matter who he has faced, he has done his job well.

"A good guy," Baker said. "You don't even know he's there. He wants it. That's where it begins."

Roark wasn't originally supposed to pitch in this game. He was slated to start Friday night's game against the Marlins in this same ballpark, but when that contest was canceled due to torrential rain and lightning, the Nationals decided to push him back a day to pitch here anyway. Roark wound up staying at a local hotel, having not even packed a change of clothes.

"Nope," he laughed. "Still got the same pair of everything."

At this point, Roark is all but assured of a spot in the Nationals opening day rotation. Given what has happened to him before, though, and what he has seen happen to others, he refuses to get complacent.

"That's how I'm always going to come in, fighting for a job," he said. "I think I've told you guys before, when I was in the minor leagues and I'd come up to big league camp, I wanted to take someone else's job. I wanted to be that guy. I wanted to be in the rotation. I wanted to be in the bullpen, anyway, anyhow. So there's guys in the minor leagues now that would love to take my spot. I don't want that to happen. So I'm going to keep on top of that and never let my guard down."

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