They already had won the first two games of this weekend’s series - one via dramatic comeback, one via complete blowout - so the Nationals essentially were playing the bonus round against the Reds this afternoon.
Then Tanner Roark got shelled in the top of the first, and today’s game became less about trying to get extra credit and more about just trying to survive and keep everybody in one piece before the Cubs get to town Monday.
Roark was roughed up for the third straight time he’s taken the mound, giving up five runs in the first inning, and the Nationals never recovered during a 6-2 loss to Cincinnati.
Roark came into this start already on a sour note, having struggled in his two previous outings and having insisted after his last one that he needed to “stop pitching like crap.”
One inning into this one, he already had failed to rectify that situation.
The Reds pounced all over Roark for five runs during a 40-pitch frame that nearly had the right-hander gasping for air. There weren’t a ton of well-struck balls, but there were several perfectly placed grounders to help keep the line moving. And there was a whole lot of damage done when Roark had a chance to finish off a batter.
Six of the Reds’ nine hits against him, plus both walks, came with two strikes.
Among the big two-strike hits: Scooter Gennett’s solo homer in the second, which made it a 6-0 game and officially left Roark on an ignominious list. He has now surrendered six or more earned runs in three consecutive starts. The only other pitcher in Nationals history to do that was Jason Marquis back in April 2010.
If there was any silver lining to Roark’s outing, it was that he managed not to let the game completely unravel on his watch. After that disastrous, 40-pitch first inning, he found a way to turn more efficient. In the end, he was able to get through the sixth on 116 pitches, if nothing else saving Dusty Baker from having to burn up his entire bullpen in advance of their upcoming four-game series with the Cubs.
In theory, Roark - and the Nationals relievers who followed him - also kept the game within striking distance for a lineup that exploded for 18 runs on Saturday afternoon. But there was no such onslaught today. Michael A. Taylor’s two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth (his third in the last two days) accounted for the Nats’ entire offensive output against journeyman starter Scott Feldman.
The Nationals also squandered a few opportunities, whether it was Anthony Rendon striking out looking at a 3-2 pitch with two men in scoring position and two out in the first, or whether it was Bob Henley with a late send of Brian Goodwin around third base on Bryce Harper’s double in the fifth, leaving Goodwin DOA at the plate.