All three runs Tanner Roark allowed last time out before Friday night came in his sixth and final inning of work against the New York Mets in the nation’s capital.
Roark gave up a one-out single by Jose Reyes, an RBI double by Juan Lagares and a two-run home run by Brandon Nimmo that put the Mets up, 3-2, before the Nats rallied for two in the bottom of the sixth and went on to a 5-4 win.
Three of the five hits he allowed, and all three runs came in that three-batter stretch in what ended up a 110-pitch, nine-strikeout start for the 30-year-old right-hander.
Dusty Baker said Roark’s success in his recent outings, after an up-and-down start to the 2017 campaign, had a lot to do with his curveball, against which opposing hitters had a .200 AVG on the season before Friday’s outing in Milwaukee.
“His breaking ball is getting back to form, which is setting up his fastball,” Baker said.
“He had good command on his fastball, and if it hadn’t have been for that home run by Nimmo, he was throwing the ball great, and I’m just glad that we came back and got the victory for Tanner before he left then held onto it.”
“There were a lot of strike ones, and just attacking the zone,” Roark told reporters after that start, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“Curveball was really good again,” Roark added. “And just going off of that, just keep them uncomfortable out there.”
Brewers’ infielder Neil Walker got hold of one of those curveballs in the bottom of the first inning Friday night in Miller Park, however, a center-cut, knee-high, hanging curve he hit it out to deep right, 1-0, for just the second homer off a Roark curve this season.
It was looking like it was going to be another “if not for that home run” outing for Roark through four, as he retired 11-straight after Walker’s blast, striking out five.
Domingo Santana snapped that streak of retired batters with a leadoff double on a first-pitch curve in the Brewers’ fifth, Stephen Vogt followed with a single that put runners on the corners with no one out, and Jonathan Villar dropped a bunt down the first base line that left Ryan Zimmerman with no option but throwing behind Santana at third as the Brewers’ outfielder retreated safely to the bag.
Roark worked out of the bases-loaded, no-out jam, however, with a 2-3 double play on a swinging bunt off Orlando Arcia’s bat, and a swinging K from the opposing pitcher, Jimmy Nelson, ending the threat and leaving it 1-0 Brewers.
Roark worked around a one-out hit-by-pitch in an 18-pitch sixth, and a two-out double and intentional walk in a 16-pitch seventh that left him at 105 pitches overall.
Tanner Roark’s Line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 Ks, 1 HR, 105 P, 69 S, 6/4 GO/FO.
Unfortunately for Roark, Brewers’ righty Jimmy Nelson and Milwaukee’s relievers, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel dominated Nationals’ hitter, with Nelson striking out 11 in seven scoreless innings, Hader striking out the side in a 12-pitch, 10-strike eighth, and Knebel earning the save in a scoreless ninth that preserved the 1-0 lead.
“Very rarely do you lose a game, 1-0, especially our team,” Baker said after the Nats dropped their second straight to the Brewers, “... and especially in the first inning, I mean, usually that doesn’t hold up, but it held up tonight.”
“Very rarely does it happen,” Roark said of the 1-0 loss.
“It was a pitchers’ duel tonight,” he said, “and they came out on top, so I have the utmost confidence in these guys here to score runs, and it was just one of those games. It happens.”
“Tanner was good. Tanner was very good,” Baker added.
“Other than the breaking ball that was hit out of the ballpark he was good. Had better life on his fastball, better command, and he had a real good breaking ball tonight — other than that one to Walker in the first inning — and that was really the only mistake he made.”
“He pitched well,” Brewers’ skipper Craig Counsell said when asked about facing Roark.
“We had couple kind of rallies a little later and Travis [Shaw] hit a couple of balls good, just to the wall, but [Roark] certainly pitched a night game.”
Both Baker and Roark talked after the game about the effectiveness of Roark’s two-seam fastball this time out.
“He’s back to form,” Baker said. “We would have loved to score some more runs for him, but hey, man, he’s throwing the ball well, he’s the Tanner that we know now, and so he keeps throwing like that he’s going to win a lot of ballgames for us down the stretch.”
Opposing hitters had a .255 AVG against Roark’s two-seamer last season, but entering play on Friday, hitters had a .294 AVG against the right-hander’s two-seam fastball.
He said he’d felt more comfortable with the pitch against the Brewers.
“It feels a lot better,” Roark said, “... especially coupling it with the four-seamer in to lefties and away to righties as well, so just keep them guessing and thinking that it’s a two-seamer when it’s a four-seamer and vice versa, so just staying behind it and staying on top of it and just following through and trusting that it’s going to be there to move.”
Roark took the loss, (11-9), and finished the night with a 4.48 ERA, a 4.16 FIP, 56 walks (3.22 BB/9), and 141 Ks (8.10 K/9) in 156 2⁄3 IP.