WASHINGTON -- For Tanner Roark, an ideal fastball has a sinking delivery that makes it difficult for batters to barrel up. During his recent run of good starts, that pitch had been a big reason why he had won five of his last seven outings entering Friday.
But against the slugging Brewers, who are second in the National League in home runs, Roark started the game without feel for his fastball, and Milwaukee took advantage early to hand the Nationals a 4-1 defeat on an emotional night at Nationals Park.
"I was just a little erratic at times," Roark said. "Not hitting my spots, and they made me pay for it."
"I was just worrying about pitching," Roark said. "I heard rumors and I didn't know if they were true or not. We've had some good talks together, so it sucks to see him go."
One encouraging aspect of Roark's improvement was his ability to keep the ball in the park, as he had allowed just three home runs over his last nine starts. But Roark surrendered a season-high three homers over the first three innings to put the Nationals in a hole they could never climb out of, and he blamed it on the way his fastball moved.
"I think the whole night I was trying to establish my fastball, and at times, I wasn't getting the sinker action," Roark said. "I was just getting the west-to-east movement, and the hitters can stay on the same plane."
After a first-inning single by Christian Yelich, Roark left a fastball out over the plate and Milwaukee second baseman Travis Shaw didn't miss, depositing a blast over the center-field wall for a 2-0 Brewers lead. Catcher Erik Kratz hit the first pitch he saw from Roark in the second deep to left for a 3-1 advantage, and Jesus Aguilar closed out the scoring in the third by hammering a 3-2 Roark fastball over the bullpen in left.
Roark (8-14) settled down after that, but it wasn't enough to prevent his second consecutive defeat after five straight victories and a no-decision. Roark didn't walk a batter and gave up just six hits, but his four earned runs were the most he has allowed since July 13 against the Mets.
"He felt like he threw the ball well," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "Just a couple pitches got too much of the plate. But he settled down and pitched well."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Nationals had a golden opportunity to answer the two quick runs the Brewers scored in the first in the bottom of the frame, as Adam Eaton and Trea Turner led off with singles and Bryce Harper walked to load the bases against Milwaukee starter Jhoulys Chacin. Anthony Rendon hit into a fielder's choice to score one run, but the best scoring threat of the night ended with Juan Soto striking out on an offspeed pitch and Ryan Zimmerman grounding out to end the inning.
It was a sign of things to come for Washington, which went 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 men on base, including leaving the bases loaded again in the ninth.
"We hit some balls hard today, too. We really did," Martinez said. "It's just with men on base, like I've said before, we've got to stay in the middle of the field, not get big. Just try to drive in one run, not all of them. Just one run."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Nats were the victim of a rather unique play at the plate in the fourth inning, with Soto right in the middle of the action. Attempting to score from third on a grounder to first by Wilmer Difo, Soto tried to avoid the tag by Kratz, but he was ruled out by home-plate umpire Chad Whitson. Washington did not challenge, as the replay showed that Soto might have missed the plate. But upon further inspection, it also revealed that Kratz did not have the ball in his glove when he tagged Soto.
HE SAID IT
"I don't get thrown out much, but normally it's because I don't feel like we're getting the same strike zone they're getting." -- Nationals catcher Matt Wieters, on his sixth-inning ejection, which he blamed on Whitson's varying strike zone
The Nationals begin the final month of the season with Stephen Strasburg taking the hill against the Brewers, who will start Chase Anderson, for the first time since 2014 in a 7:05 p.m. ET matchup on Saturday. Washington traditionally has played well in September, posting a non-losing record in the month every year since 2011.