Nationals routed by Cardinals, 8-1, in weekend opener

ST. LOUIS - Bryce Harper gave the Nationals a scare, but turned out to be fine. Tanner Roark, however, has not been fine for a while, and that has become a major concern for the Nats.

roark-pitching-face-on-sidebar-white.jpgRoark struggled once again tonight, lasting only three innings and digging the Nationals into an early hole that only got deeper as an 8-1 loss to the Cardinals played out.

Hoping to bounce back after three consecutive poor starts, Roark found no answers at Busch Stadium. He issued a career-high five walks, labored again to put away hitters with two strikes and needed a whopping 85 pitches just to complete three innings.

Roark’s struggles came on top of a briefly frightening scene in the top of the first when Harper fell to the ground in pain after legging out a groundball. As manager Dusty Baker and head athletic trainer Paul Lessard rushed from the dugout, Harper remained on the ground for several minutes before finally getting back on his feet and convincing the dup to let him stay in the game.

It wasn’t clear what exactly happened to Harper, but shortstop Paul DeJong’s throw may have struck him in the left foot just as he reached first base.

Whatever the case, Harper continued and wound up making a nice catch that ended with him slamming into the right field fence later, not to mention running hard from first-to-third bases on Ryan Zimmerman’s single.

With the game out of reach late, though, Baker pulled Daniel Murphy and Stephen Drew, replacing his middle infield with Wilmer Difo and Adrian Sanchez (making his major league debut). Harper, though, stayed in til the bitter end.

The Nationals found themselves in that position after Roark’s latest rough start and then a fourth-inning meltdown from long reliever Jacob Turner.

Roark escaped the first two innings without any runs scoring, but he put himself into jams in each frame and saw his pitch count soar. Things fell apart in the third, which opened with back-to-back walks, then continued with singles by Jedd Gyorko, Yadier Molina and Greg Garcia.

All told, three runs scored in the inning, with Roark finally pulled after he walked off the mound having thrown 85 pitches. Over his last four starts, the right-hander now has pitched a total of only 16 2/3 innings, allowing 22 runs on 28 hits while throwing 372 pitches.

Turner took over in the bottom of the fourth with the Nationals trailing only 3-1 but quickly turned that manageable deficit into a rout. Matt Carpenter and Gyorko each doubled during the rally, with Molina producing another two-run single and DeJong capping things off with a two-run homer.

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