Washington's skipper Matt Williams was faced with a difficult decision in the sixth inning of tonight's game with the Nationals' regional rivals from Baltimore. With the score 3-2 in the home team's favor after five and a half innings in the nation's capital, Nats' starter Tanner Roark, who was up to 84 pitches after six innings of work, was due up with two on and two down after Orioles' starter Kevin Gausman gave up a two-out walk to Asdrubal Cabrera and a line drive single by Wilson Ramos.
Williams opted to stay with Roark, allowing the pitcher to hit and after he grounded out, sent him back to the mound where the 27-year-old right-hander proceeded to give up the lead in what ended up a three-run inning for the O's.
Back-to-back doubles tied it up with J.J. Hardy sending a ground ball by third and into the left field corner in front of Orioles' second baseman Ryan Flaherty, who lined a 91 mph first-pitch fastball to center and off the GEICO wall.
A sac bunt by O's catcher Caleb Joseph, who'd homered off Roark in the third to tie the game at 1-1, moved Flaherty to third and an RBI single by Delmon Young gave Baltimore the lead, 4-3.
Asked after what ended up a 7-3 loss if he'd considered hitting for Roark in the sixth and going to the pen in the top of the seventh, Williams said that he had thought about it.
"There's thought," the first-year manager told reporters, "but it depends on who else we've got available. The bullpen has been pitching a lot lately. But we've got the lead. He almost got a hit. The ball almost got the down the line. But in that situation, he's low pitch count, he's pitching well, he's been pitching well. So, we want to take the lead and then the following inning as well, and we can't burn the pen either, so we decided to go with him in that last inning."
Williams was asked if any of the the Nationals' "back three" meaning Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard or Rafael Soriano were unavailable?
"That's for us to know," he said. "I'm not going to go there now. But the bullpen has been pitching a lot. But [Roark] pitched well until that point."
As for what went wrong for Roark in the seventh?
"I just think he got some pitches up. The ball to Hardy is down the line, elevated fastball. And then the same for the rest of the guys really in that inning. The ball got up, they got a guy to third and then he hung a slider to Young. He was pretty good until that point and then the ball just got up in the zone."
"The ball was up, elevated," Roark agreed when he spoke to reporters. "I wasn't hitting my spots. Like I've told you guys many times before, if the ball is up and you're not hitting your spots it's going to get hit hard and that's what happened."
Asked if he expected to be hit for in the sixth, Roark said, "No."
"He has confidence in me," Roark said, referring of course to his manager, "and that's all that a starting pitcher can ever ask for, and a reliever too. It's a confidence booster and I won't disappoint him next time."
The first two runs Roark was charged with in the loss came on home runs in the third and fifth innings, when Joseph and Orioles' right fielder Nick Markakis took Roark deep, the last of the five scored when Craig Stammen let the last runner to reach on the starter scored on a two-out, bases-loaded single by Adam Jones.
It was just the second time in 23 starts this season that he allowed more than one home run in one outing.
"The one to Joseph," Roark explained, "that was definitely a two-seamer that ran back over the middle of the plate, it was supposed outside corner.
"And then the curveball [to Markakis]," which was an 0-1 curve inside, "it was a good pitch, but it was down and in right into where he can hit that. He loves curveballs and I was trying to keep it out over the plate so he could roll over, but it went right in his happy zone and he got a good hit on it."
The second home run of the night snapped a streak of four-straight one-run outings for Roark, and when he left the game with two out in the seventh, a streak of five-straight seven-inning starts was snapped as well.
The loss left Roark (11-7) on the year with a 2.94 ERA, 30 walks (1.91 BB/9) and 106 Ks (6.77 K/9) in 141 IP.
"They're in first place for a reason," he said after facing the Orioles for the first time in his career.
"They hit the ball. It showed tonight. They hit the ball well and kept them in the game and they ended up winning, so face the Mets tomorrow, we've got a big series against the Mets and face them tomorrow and get them."
• We talked about last night's loss to the Orioles on the latest edition of Nats Nightly w/ Dave from the District Sports Page and Doghouse: