The Nationals knew they had a tough task on Sunday afternoon against Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish, one of baseball’s elite pitchers. They would need to scratch out a few runs, perhaps just one, against the tough right-handed starter and need their starter, Tanner Roark, to keep them in the game as long as possible. And like he has much of the season, Roark delivered a solid start and gave the Nationals a chance to win.
Roark and Darvish may contrast in styles — Roark is the unheralded sinker-balling late bloomer while Darvish is the prized international signing with an absurd strikeout repertoire — but the two matched each other for six scoreless innings on Sunday. While Darvish mowed through the Nationals lineup with his impressive changing speeds and struck out 12 over eight innings, Roark used his command and defense to allow only one run over seven innings against the organization that traded him to Washington in 2010.
“He pitched really well,” Manager Matt Williams said of Roark.
For much of the season, Roark has been one of the most consistent Nationals’ starters. He has the second-lowest ERA (3.25) and ERA+ (112) among Nationals starters (Stephen Strasburg has a 3.15 ERA and 115 ERA+). Roark leads the Nationals rotation with an average of 6.3 innings per starts. Eight of his 11 starts have been quality starts (three earned runs of fewer over at least six innings). The league average is 56 percent quality starts; 73 percent of Roark’s starts have been.
Roark, 27, emerged as one of the most unexpected developments of the Nationals’ 2013 season. His continued progression as a pitcher has been one of the most encouraging parts of this season. He entered spring training as a candidate for the final spot in the rotation and, in the season’s first two months, he has shown he is capable of being a part of it for good.
“Over the last year-ish, he’s showed us that he can throw strikes and he competes and can do a lot of things on the diamond,” Williams said. “He handles the bat well, fields his position well. So all of those things combined show us that he’s a rotation guy. Three pitches, really, for strikes. An occasional slider, occasional curveball, but fastball-change-up to both sides. [Sunday] was a little off, a little command, but he made them when he had to make them. He pitched well.”
Roark’s sole mistake on Sunday was a hanging change-up to Leonys Martin in the seventh inning. Roark’s command was an issue early in the game. He gave up two singles in the first but escaped thanks to catcher Wilson Ramos’ strong throw to second base to nab Alex Rios stealing and a replay challenge. In the second inning, he walked Luis Sardinas with two outs and fell behind 2-0 to Darvish. But, after visits from Ramos, shortstop Ian Desmond and pitching coach Steve McCatty, he found a groove.
“I feel like I wasn’t as focused as I was starting the game,” Roark said. “And then over the start, started focusing more and staring at the glove and throwing to the glove, and that’s what helped a lot.”
Roark invites contact from opposing lineups and, on Sunday, he used his own defense to his advantage. Ramos threw out two base runners, including in the seventh just before Martin’s home run. Second baseman Danny Espinosa and third baseman Anthony Rendon made a handful of difficult plays. Roark allowed seven hits but used 11 groundouts and a double play to escape each inning. Roark did nothing to change the way he pitched simply because he was going up against one of baseball’s best pitchers.
“You’re not trying to go out there and be perfect,” Roark said. “He’s good. Can’t take that away from him. Overall, just try to keep the same game and try not to change anything. Don’t try to throw a perfect game.”
But Roark’s hanging 1-0 change-up to Martin put the Nationals in a deficit they couldn’t recover from against a dominant Yu.
“Just a bad change-up,” Roark said. “It was up and didn’t throw it with conviction. It was a bad pitch. I’ve told you guys many times, when the pitch is up bad pitches get hit hard. … That’s how it’s been the past couple games: just one pitch I’ve got to eliminate from my repertoire. You’re gonna give up runs but have the conviction and execution on every single pitch that you throw. Tip your hat to Darvish. He threw well.”
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FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 8, Buffalo 5: Ryan Tatusko allowed five runs on four hits and five walks over five innings. Daniel Stange, Manny Del Carmen and Warner Madrigal combined for four scoreless innings. Steven Souza Jr. went 2 for 3 with two walks. Zach Walters went 2 for 4. Jhonatan Solano, Brandon Laird and Sandy Leon each drove in two runs.
Akron 6, Harrisburg 3: Pablo Espino allowed three runs, two earned, on three hits over four innings. Neil Holland lowered his ERA to 2.97 with a scoreless frame. Michael A. Taylor hit his 15th home run, and is hitting .325 on the season. Cutter Dykstra and Matt Skole each drove in a run.
Potomac 12, Salem 11: Ian Dickson allowed seven runs and Derek Self allowed three runs. Cole Leonida drew three walks and hit a home run. Tony Renda went 3 for 5 with three RBI. On rehab, Ryan Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with two RBI. Will Piwnica-Worms and Justin Miller each drove in two runs.
Kannapolis 5, Hagerstown 1 (7): Reynaldo Lopez allowed three runs over three innings and Robert Orlan gave up two runs over three innings. Spencer Kieboom went 2 for 3 with an RBI.
Hagerstown 11, Kannapolis 5 (7): Andrew Cooper allowed five runs over four innings and Joseph Webb added three scoreless frames. John Wooten went 2 for 4 with three RBI. Drew Ward hit his fourth home run. Isaac Ballou went 2 for 4 with two RBI.