WASHINGTON -- It was a puzzling game that encompassed this puzzling season for Tanner Roark. At times he was hit hard. At times he was a victim of some tough luck, as some balls bounced just out of the reach of Nationals defenders, who also failed to convert some key
WASHINGTON -- It was a puzzling game that encompassed this puzzling season for Tanner Roark. At times he was hit hard. At times he was a victim of some tough luck, as some balls bounced just out of the reach of Nationals defenders, who also failed to convert some key outs.
Still, Roark came away encouraged despite the outcome of Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Reds, which featured another forgettable pitching line. But after surrendering five runs in the first inning and a solo homer in the second, he was able to battle through six innings.
"I felt like I was making my pitches," Roark said. "Sometimes stuff like that happens. You can't get overwhelmed or mad about it. Just tip your cap and keep going out there. I was happy to stay out there as long as I did and finish the game."
Roark was coming off his two worst starts of the year and had posted an 8.02 ERA during the month of June. The rate of his pitches in the upper portion of the strike zone had jumped from 11 percent in April/May to 17.2 percent in June.
Cincinnati did not allow him to settle in at all Sunday. The Reds sent all nine batters to the plate during a disastrous five-hit, five-run first inning in which they also benefited from a few defensive miscues from the Nats. Bryce Harper overthrew Anthony Rendon at third base on one relay which allowed a runner to score, and later in the inning misplayed a ball that would have ended the inning, but instead allowed two more runs to score.
And even though the Reds collected five hits, the average exit velocity on those hits in the first inning was just 87.2 mph.
"[Roark] didn't have real good control, but he had enough to get out of that inning," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "There's nothing you can do about those balls finding holes. He threw the ball better today than the score indicated."
Roark gave up a solo home run to Scooter Gennett in the second inning, but settled in nicely after that. He did not allow a run for the rest of the game, completing six innings with seven strikeouts, and Baker appreciated his effort to save the Nationals bullpen from disaster. It's the type of gritty performance that endears Roark to his teammates, even as he has failed to replicate his production from last season.
"I told myself you don't need to change a thing," Roark said after the second inning. "Just keep attacking, keep moving the ball in and out, up and down."
Roark has been searching for adjustments, making mechanical tweaks during this rough patch this month as he tries to get back to the starter that led the Nationals in ERA last season. Despite the encouraging feeling from this outing, his ERA currently stands at 5.15 as he tries to right himself the rest of the way.
"You've got to take positives out of every outing, no matter what happens, no matter the outcome," Roark said. "I felt that the fastball was working, the slider was working, the changeup was working. I felt like all four pitches were pretty good."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.