Tanner Roark’s 35-pitch, three-walk third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates this afternoon in PNC Park was a near-disaster.
Washington’s 30-year-old starter loaded the bases with a leadoff walk, single, and walk from the first three batters he faced.
His third walk of the inning forced in a run, 3-1, and another run scored on a grounder to third base in the at bat that followed, putting the Pirates up on the Nationals, 4-1.
The long third pushed Roark from 37 to 72 pitches after three, and he was up to 106 pitches overall after five as his pitch count rose quickly.
Dusty Baker sent his right-hander back out for the sixth, down 5-4, after John Jaso hit a two-out solo shot to center field in the fifth to put the Pirates back on top after the Nationals had rallied to tie it up in the top of the fourth inning.
Roark issued his fourth walk of the game to Gift Ngoepe in the home-half of the sixth, following a leadoff single by Chris Stewart, and both Pirates’ runners came around on a double by Adam Frazier, who took a 1-2 sinker from Blake Treinen for a ride after the right-handed reliever took over on the mound for Roark. It was an 8-4 game in the Pirates’ favor before Treinen was lifted.
Tanner Roark’s Line: 5.0 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks, 2 HR, 114 P, 66 S, 5/4 GO/FO.
Over four starts in May, Roark has now allowed 22 hits and 17 runs, 15 earned (6.23 ERA), 12 walks (4.98 BB/9) and four home runs (1.66 HR/9) in 21 2⁄3 innings pitched.
On the season, the right-hander had a 4.73 ERA, a 4.27 FIP, 21 walks (3.68 BB/9), and 42 Ks (7.36 K/9) in 51 1⁄3 IP after today’s outing.
“The game is testing me right now,” Roark told reporters after the Nationals’ 10-4 loss to the Pirates.
“I’ve just got to fight back and not give in and continue to work hard and keep doing my thing.”
Roark pointed to the walks as the biggest issue that has led to his high pitch counts and short outings over his last few starts.
“Limit the walks you stay in the game longer and you have more pitches to throw,” he said. “That’s been my... I feel like my issue all year has been walks.”
So, is there something mechanical that’s led to the struggles with his command?
“I’m going to go back and definitely look at some video,” Roark said, “but the biggest thing is to not get in your own head, because once you do that it’s a downhill slope.
“I’m going to keep having confidence in myself, confidence in my teammates and just go out there and go as long as I can, as hard as I can.”
“It just seemed like he lost command of the strike zone,” Baker said in discussing Roark’s long third, high pitch count, and overall struggles.
“I had to go get him early, which I’m not accustomed to, this is a couple times in a row where his pitch count has gotten high. It’s just a matter of — you never see him missing high like he’s missing, so we’ve just got to back and in his next pen work on reaching out and keeping the ball down.
“He’s getting very few of his comeback fastballs inside on left-handers and so we’ve just got to go back to the pen and try to work on his mechanics so he can throw the ball where he wants to because usually he’s one of the best.”