It was humid. It was still 90+° in the nation's capital at 7:00 pm EDT. The Nationals were back in Washington after a long road trip. They were facing a Houston Astros team they'd beaten in six straight games and 10 of the last 11 meetings. Tanner Roark was on the mound in the nation's capital, but things weren't going too well.
"The ball just wasn't coming back for him," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said after what ended up a closer-than-it-should-have-been 6-5 win.
"He was throwing hard, I mean, 93-94 mph but it wasn't moving back to the inside part of the plate. He labored through, got us five and did his job, but it was a labor tonight. Really humid for the first time this year for us. He was wiping a lot, as if he wasn't getting a really good grip on it. But his ball wasn't moving back to the corner like it usually does. But he battled through."
Roark, 27, wasn't willing to blame his struggles on the heat and humidity in his adopted home.
"I like the humidity," he said. "I like the heat, easy to stay loose and easy to get loose. It's the first one, but it's just one of those games, one of those hot days."
"It's hot and sweaty," Roark told reporters. "I'm sure everybody in the stands was hot and sweaty. I'm sure you guys were too, but that's why I use the rosin, try to rosin up as much as I can, and just there was no slip on it or anything, I just couldn't find the zone, really, basically is what it boils down to."
As the game went on and the Nationals' right-hander's pitch count climbed from 22 in the first to 34 after two and 49 after three, Roark was able to make the necessary adjustments based on what was working for him and what wasn't.
His fastball wasn't working for him, and hard as he was throwing, as Williams said, he couldn't locate it.
"He just has different pitches he can go to if that doesn't work for him," the Nats' first-year skipper said.
"It was hit and miss," Roark said. "Usually I feel really good with spotting up my fastball and stuff, but tonight I felt I was yanking off a little bit and just couldn't... as hard as I wanted to focus, I wasn't all there, so just like I said, one of those games."
"I've got to have the sinker going most of the time," Roark continued, "but my bailout was my curveball tonight, so thank god that was there."
"Later in his outing tonight he threw a lot of curveballs," Williams explained. "And that was the one that he could control and get early strikes on and he's got the ability to adjust like that within the game to get outs or get ahead in the count, but his fastball command just wasn't there tonight."
"It was a grind," Roark said after he completed five innings of work in which he gave up seven hits and just one earned run in spite of the difficulties he was dealing with throughout the outing.
"The whole game," he said. "Just one of those days. So, I couldn't get ahead, but came up with big pitches and of course we come out early and score runs so it takes a lot of weight off."
The Nationals survived a late scare when Tyler Clippard gave up four runs in the eighth to turn a 6-1 lead into a 6-5 nail-biter, but they beat the Astros for the seventh straight time and made it 11 of the last 12 against Houston overall.
"It's definitely good to get the first one always," Roark said. "We're not thinking too far ahead, we're only 69 games in today, it's still relatively 'early,' but we're coming out and just playing one game at a time."
With the win, Roark improved to (6-4) on the year with a 2.85 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 20 walks (2.04 BB/9) and 69 Ks (7.03 K/9) in 88 ⅓ IP over which he's been worth +1.3 fWAR.