Nats score early, get another quality start in 5-1 win over M’s

What’s the best way to overcome a suspect bullpen? How about a string of starts that reduce the relievers’ workload by a significant amount?

The Nationals have figured out that formula in recent days and tonight won their third straight game thanks to seven strong innings from Tanner Roark.

Roark’s best outing in weeks, combined with another early offensive explosion against the Mariners, produced a 5-1 victory before a crowd of 29,223 that didn’t have to sweat much for the second night in a row.

Anthony Rendon’s latest home run off Seattle pitching staked Roark to an early lead, and the right-hander took things from there, striking out eight batters over seven innings to reverse his recent downward trend.

Roark’s start came on the heels of Joe Ross’ eight-inning performance Tuesday night, which came on the heels of Stephen Strasburg’s 7 2/3-inning gem Sunday in Atlanta. Put them all together, and the Nationals have won three straight games while needing only 4 1/3 total innings from their bullpen.

murphy-harper-rendon-high-five-white.jpgAs they did Tuesday night against Christian Bergman, the Nationals pounced on Mariners starter Sam Gaviglio from the get-go tonight. And an all-too-familiar face again played a key role.

With one run already across the plate and two runners on base in the bottom of the first, Rendon launched a pitch from Gaviglio into the left field bullpen. The three-run blast was Rendon’s third homer in his first five at-bats of the series, raising his RBI total during this stretch to eight.

The Nationals added another run in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of Michael A. Taylor’s bunt single and Trea Turner’s RBI single to extend their lead to 5-1.

Roark then got down to business. He had a little bit of trouble his first couple innings putting away hitters and surrendered one run on Kyle Seager’s double and Robinson Canó’s RBI single to left field. But the right-hander found his groove after that.

All of a sudden, instead of giving up hits with two outs, Roark got Ks. His final out of the first, second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings all came on strikeouts, many thanks to the return of his trademark two-seamer.

Because of that, Roark was able to keep his pitch count manageable. After needing 114 pitches to record 15 outs last week in Pittsburgh, he needed only 102 tonight to record 21 outs.

That allowed Dusty Baker to use his well-rested bullpen as he preferred. Enny Romero recorded two outs in the eighth before Shawn Kelley entered to finish the inning. Koda Glover then pitched the ninth with a four-run lead, finishing off the victory.

The Nationals will go for a series sweep of the Mariners on Thursday, with scheduled first pitch bumped up to 12:05 p.m. in attempt to beat the rain that is expected to deluge the area later in the afternoon.

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