WASHINGTON -- For weeks this season, Tanner Roark wracked his brain searching for an answer to bust out of his slump on the mound. He tinkered with his delivery. He tried to attack hitters differently. He shaved his head and beard to change his mojo.Now Roark appears to have finally
WASHINGTON -- For weeks this season, Tanner Roark wracked his brain searching for an answer to bust out of his slump on the mound. He tinkered with his delivery. He tried to attack hitters differently. He shaved his head and beard to change his mojo.
Now Roark appears to have finally settled into a groove, as he spun a third consecutive strong start to lead the Nationals to a 2-1 victory on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, sealing a series victory in the four-game set with the Reds. Roark navigated around seven hits to hold Cincinnati to one run in seven innings with a pair of strikeouts and no walks.
In his three most recent outings, Roark has given up two runs in 22 innings (0.82 ERA) with 20 strikeouts and one walk -- success he attributed to a mechanical adjustment that helps him use his legs to drive more power on his pitches, instead of relying solely on his arm.
"Definitely [helps] with everything," Roark said. "It helps give later movement on everything and has more life to it."
Prior to that stretch, the Nats had dropped seven consecutive games started by Roark, during which time he posted a 7.68 ERA. Washington has been searching for some consistency in the starting rotation outside of Max Scherzer, so the emergence of Roark could be huge.
"He's definitely got confidence right now," manager Dave Martinez said. "It's always a good thing. When you're starting to pitch the way he's been pitching, the more he does it, the better he's going to feel in his own head. For him, doing what he's doing right now, we need that. It's a big pick-me-up for us right now."
Even though the Nationals won Sunday, so did both teams ahead of them in the National League East, so they remain six games behind first-place Philadelphia in the division.
Matt Wieters hit his first home run since April 29 in the second inning and Bryce Harper stayed hot with a run-scoring double in the third inning to provide the offense. Washington has focused on winning series to climb back into the playoff picture, which made Sunday's game that much more important.
The win helps the Nationals keep some momentum as they head into a crucial four-game series with the Braves beginning Tuesday. They have won five of their six games since the Trade Deadline, when management decided to keep the team together instead of becoming sellers, and eight of their past 11 overall.
"I'm proud of the boys," Martinez said. "They're fighting, they're hitting, they're pitching. They're doing everything right, so let's keep it going."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Since the Nationals acquired reliever Kelvin Herrera in June, his outings have not gone as smoothly as they would have hoped. On Sunday, he had no margin for error, pitching in a one-run game in the ninth inning to try and secure the victory. Herrera was at his best in his highest-leverage situation since joining the Nats, spinning a 1-2-3 inning and striking out Joey Votto looking to seal the victory.
"I looked out and I saw [Votto] in the eighth inning possibly getting ready to come in and hit," Herrera said. "So I was mentally prepared to face him, if I had to. And I just had a good game plan going in if I did face him, and I executed and it worked out."
• Juan Soto finished the day 0-for-2, but reached base with a pair of walks. He has now reached safely in 38 of his last 43 games. Soto also made a great catch on a sinking line drive off the bat of Jose Peraza in the fifth inning.
• Since the All-Star break, Harper is batting .367 with three home runs and 14 RBIs. He was back in the starting lineup after exiting following a hit by pitch in Saturday's nightcap.
Following an off-day Monday, the Nationals host the Braves for a four-game series in three days starting with a split doubleheader Tuesday at Nationals Park. It's a chance for Washington to close the gap against one of the teams directly in front of it in the NL East. The Nats will promote right-hander Jefry Rodriguez to start Game 1 against left-hander Max Fried at 1:05 p.m. ET. Then, Max Scherzer will take the ball in the nightcap against lefty Sean Newcomb at 7:05 p.m.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.