Nationals starting pitching is slowly trending up

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Four days ago, the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation was near the bottom of the majors. Through 16 games this season, their starting pitchers had a 5.19 ERA. At one point, only one team had a worse rotation ERA, the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

But through this turn in the rotation, Nationals starting pitching is slowly trending up. Over the past four starts, including Tanner Roark’s strong performance against the the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Monday night, the starting pitching has allowed only four earned runs over the past 26 2/3 innings. In that span, they have struck out 27 batters.

And as of Monday night, the Nationals’ starting rotation has a 4.30 ERA, the 20th best mark in the majors. After early hiccups in which each starter’s clunkers were bunched together, the starting pitching has settled into a mini groove.

“It’s definitely good to be in a routine per se,” Roark said. “Knowing when you’re going to pitch and everything like that. The biggest thing is to keep a routine.”

Four days ago, Nationals starting pitchers were averaging 5.4 innings per start. The turnaround began with Gio Gonzalez’s strong start against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday in which he allowed one run over seven innings. Then Jordan Zimmermann turned in a solid performance: four runs, only one earned, over seven innings. Stephen Strasburg rebounded from a rough start and fired six innings and allowed only two runs on Sunday.

Roark followed up on Monday with his own strong outing against an Angels lineup that has scored the third-most runs in the majors. The right-hander allowed no runs over seven innings. He gave up seven hits and walked two batters but struck out five and induced nine groundouts.

“He pitched well,” Manager Matt Williams said. “He continues to throw all of his pitches for strikes and compete. Pitched really well.”

From the first inning, it was clear Roark’s stuff was sharp. He felt strong and he knew his sinker would benefit. He struck out Mike Trout looking in the first inning with a nasty outside two-seam fastball that broke back into the strike zone. Roark loaded the bases in the second inning but struck out opposing pitcher Garrett Richards to escape the jam.

The first two runners in the third reached on singles but Roark massaged a double play out of Albert Pujols and then a fly out from Ian Stewart. The lone extra base hit Roark allowed was a two-out double to Erick Aybar in the fourth.

“Just trying to get ahead,” Roark said. “I feel like first-pitch strike was a big thing for me [Monday night]. It’s gotta be always. Sinker was working well [Monday night]. Used that a lot.”

Roark held Trout and Pujols to a combined 1 for 6. After Roark gave up a two-out single to J.B. Shuck in the seventh inning and his pitch count sat at 105 pitches, Williams emerged from the dugout to take the ball. Roark walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the crowd.

On Tuesday, the Nationals send Taylor Jordan to the mound to face the Angels. If he delivers a solid performance, the Nationals will have gone through an entire turn in the rotation with a good start from each starter for the first time this season. 

FROM THE POST

Nats fall, 4-2, to the Angels as Manager Matt Williams sticks with Tyler Clippard in a four-run eighth, writes Adam Kilgore.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Former hitting coach Rick Eckstein returns to Washington with the Angels

Mike Trout, Bryce Harper prepare to clash amid comparisons, hype

Danny Espinosa continues his re-emergence

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Rochester 5, Syracuse 2: Danny Rosenbaum allowed two runs on three hits over 2 2/3 innings. Christian Garcia took the loss for allowing three runs on four hits over 2 2/3 innings. Ryan Mattheus allowed no runs over 2 2/3 innings. Jose Lozada fired a scoreless inning. Brock Peterson went 3 for 4 and drove in a run. Brandon Laird also drove in a run.

Altoona 10, Harrisburg 1: Blake Schwartz allowed six runs, four earned, on seven hits over five innings. Gabriel Alfaro allowed four runs on seven hits over two innings. Destin Hood had two hits and is hitting .388 on the season.

Potomac 4, Lynchburg 2: Brett Mooneyham allowed two runs and walked four over 2 2/3 innings. Brian Dupra picked up the win for 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, while striking out six. Dakota Bacus notched a two-inning save. Stephen Perez hit a solo home run. Cole Leonida, Oscar Tejeda and Randolph Oduber also drove in a run each.

Augusta 4, Hagerstown 2: Nick Pivetta allowed four runs on nine hits over 4 1/3 innings. Andrew Cooper fired 2 2/3 scoreless relief innings. Drew Ward and Isaac Ballou each drove in a run. Estarlin Martinez went 2 for 4.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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