Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams was asked before today's series opener with the Chicago Cubs if either hitters or pitchers had an advantage seeing one another twice in a short period of time as Nats' right-hander Tanner Roark and Cubs' starter Jason Hammel faced off for the second time in seven days.
"For me," Williams, a veteran of seventeen major league seasons as a player told reporters, "pitching is making a pitch when you need to and hitting is hitting a mistake, because if he makes his pitches, then you're not going to hit him anyway, regardless of who it is and regardless of track record and success or lack thereof.
"For us, it's about being patient like it always is and getting guys on base and taking advantage of any mistakes that they make from a pitching perspective or a defensive perspective or any of that. So, hitting is just hitting mistakes. Because if they throw the sinker on the corner down in and the slider on the corner down and away and elevate a fastball and throw it exactly where they want to all the time, you're going to have a tough time anyway."
The Nationals did have a tough time with Hammel again today in the nation's capital.
The 31-year-old Cubs' starter held Nats' hitters to five hits and two earned runs, walking one and striking out six in 6 ⅓ innings pitched last week in Wrigley Field in a 7-2 win in which he improved to (7-0) in nine career starts against Washington and he put up nearly identical numbers this afternoon, holding the Nationals to five hits and two earned runs in 6 IP over which he walked two and struck out seven, improving to (8-0) in 10 starts.
"He's good," Williams said after today's loss. "He's got a really good curveball that he threw a lot today. Ball sinks and he's able to pinpoint his fastball too. He's been tough on us. He's been tough on everybody, but especially us."
The Cubs have been tough on Tanner Roark in the last two outings as well, collecting 10 hits and four earned runs in six innings at home last Friday and nine hits and four runs this afternoon in Nationals Park. Back-to-back singles started the game and a run scored on a double play grounder to put Chicago up early. Jayson Werth tied it up at 1-1 with a solo home run in the bottom of the first, but an RBI single by Hammel in the second and a solo home run by Justin Ruggiano in the third put the Cubs ahead for good in what ended up a 7-2 loss for the Nats.
Asked after today's game if he tried to change anything up after getting knocked around last time out, Roark said, "No."
"Just go out there and do your thing," the 27-year-old right-hander explained. "Can't think too far into it, that will just make your stuff even worse and then you start walking guys and trying to be perfect on every pitch."
"I just got beat," he said. "They had base hits and a home run, put good wood, found holes."
Roark was lifted in the seventh when the Nationals threatened to get back into what was then a 4-1 game, but he said he felt better at that point and could have gone on.
"I feel like the deeper I get the better I feel," Roark said, "just with sharpness and everything like that. I still felt good when I came out, so I tried to get my way to stay in, but obviously if we've got runners on base we've got to pinch hit, but felt good."
"Extra day's rest and a little bit up and not quite as crisp," Williams said when asked to break down Roark's issues this afternoon. "They got a lot of base hits on him. He kept it to four, but just up and kind of middle today. Breaking ball wasn't quite as good, changeup wasn't quite as good."
"It just seems like he's missing a little bit," the first-year manager explained. "Missing fastball location probably most, which of course sets up everything else, but just not as crisp, not as on the corner. If he does get a strike, it's a little bit up, maybe a little bit over the plate."
The Nationals added a run in the seventh when Wilson Ramos singled to drive Anthony Rendon in from second after Rendon led the inning off with a double, but that's all the Nats were able to do there and the Cubs got to the Nationals' bullpen in the ninth, adding three more to make it 7-2, which is how it ended.
With the loss, the Nationals' season-high five game win streak ended and they dropped their third game of five with the Cubs so far this season. With the NL East leaders scheduled to play later tonight, the Nats fell to a game behind in the division pending the outcome of the Braves' 4th of July matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks.