Tanner Roark's fifteen strikeouts against the Minnesota Twins earlier in the homestand that ended with three straight losses to the Philadelphia Phillies, were the third-most ever by a pitcher in Washington Nationals' history (2005-present) and four more than he himself had collected in any of his previous fifty-one major league starts.
So... did Nats' skipper Dusty Baker feel the need to talk to his starter and tell him not to try to replicate those results in Thursday's outing in the series finale with the Phillies?
"You don't tell him anything like that," Baker told reporters before the game. He did, however, explain that after Roark threw a career-high 121 pitches, they would be monitoring him closely.
"When you have a high pitch [outing] like that, you try to limit him the next outing, even though he didn't have any real stressful innings, we're going to watch him and hopefully have a lot less pitches this [time]."
As for an explanation for the dramatic spike in Roark's strikeout total vs the Twins?
"Maybe he's learned how to strike them out," Baker said.
"Sometimes that happens too, or maybe they were a strikeout-type team. All of those things come into play."
With seven scoreless innings on the mound against the Phillies on Thursday, Roark extended his current scoreless inning streak to fifteen straight innings over which he's allowed four hits and five walks, but no runs.
Roark threw a total of 99 pitches to the 24 batters he faced before he was lifted from what ended up a 3-0 loss in which he received no decision.
The outing left the 29-year-old right-hander, who returned to the rotation this season after a year spent mostly in the bullpen in 2015, with a 2.03 ERA, a 2.94 FIP, 13 walks (3.77 BB/9) and 30 Ks (8.71 K/9) in 31 innings pitched, over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .211/.299/.257 line.
Baker talked after the loss about what was working for Roark.
"The main thing, he had good offspeed stuff going, he had a good breaking ball, good changeup."
Though opposing hitters have a .267 AVG against his curve so far this season, no one has recorded a hit on Roark's change so far (62 pitches).
Hitters have a .227 AVG on his two-seam fastball, which broke back into the zone late repeatedly and fooled one hitter after another on Thursday.
"He threw the ball well today," Baker said, but he took Roark out when he did (after seven innings) because he'd left him out there so long last time out.
"We didn't want to take him out," he explained, "but we knew before the game that we were going to take him out because he threw so many pitches in his last start."
"So that was something that we had to do. And we know we've got a very capable bullpen."
Shawn Kelley handled the eighth inning, keeping it scoreless, 0-0, but the 'pen faltered in the ninth with Felipe Rivero giving up a single by Odubel Herrera and a double by Freddie Galvis before a base-loading intentional walk.
Jonathan Papelbon came on looking for a strikeout and double play, but after he got Darin Ruf swinging for the first out of the frame, Cameron Rupp doubled to right to bring in two of the three runs that eventually scored.
"Rivero, one of the key things was a two-strike curveball that the leadoff man [Odubel Herrera] hit and then the messed up bunt," Baker said
"Then [Galvis] hit the ball further than we've seen Galvis hit the ball, so he timed it right and Rivero supplied most of the power."
The loss left the Nationals 14-7 as they head out on a ten-game road trip to St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago.
"If somebody told me we'd start off 14-7, I'd be very, very happy," Baker said.
"But we kind of spoiled everybody by starting the way we did and so we'll get it back together, I mean, big time.
"These guys have got a lot of pride over here and a lot of determination. At night when you got to bed, you can be sad, but you've got every reason to be happy when the sun comes up tomorrow."
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