MILWAUKEE -- If the Nationals have any plans of still making the postseason -- and, according to manager Dave Martinez, they do -- then they need some consistency from the bottom of the starting rotation. Tanner Roark did his part on Wednesday afternoon.In the midst of a trying season, Roark
MILWAUKEE -- If the Nationals have any plans of still making the postseason -- and, according to manager Dave Martinez, they do -- then they need some consistency from the bottom of the starting rotation. Tanner Roark did his part on Wednesday afternoon.
In the midst of a trying season, Roark hurled his first scoreless start since last May in the Nationals' 7-3 win over the Brewers at Miller Park, helping Washington salvage the finale of the three-game series. After Giovany Gonzalez couldn't find the zone in Monday's loss and Jeremy Hellickson made a few mistakes during Tuesday's extra-innings defeat, Roark's silencing of the Brewers' bats in an eight-inning outing was a welcome sight for the Nationals in their 50th victory of the year.
"We say it every day," Martinez said. "If they can go six or seven innings, we can do some things. With our lineup, just keep us in the ballgame. Our lineup can be explosive just like that. As long as we stay in the ballgames, we're in good shape."
Except the Nationals' pitchers haven't been able to keep their team in the game during a 9-14 stretch since June 28.
Including Wednesday's outing, the Nationals have gotten three quality starts from pitchers not named Max Scherzer since June 28 -- the last time Roark went six-plus innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer. In his three appearances between quality starts, Roark surrendered nine runs once and four runs twice, ballooning his ERA to 4.87, nearly double his 2.83 mark in a 16-win 2016 campaign that put him firmly in National League Cy Young Award contention. Roark leads the NL in losses with 12.
"It's been nine days or something since I've been out there on the mound," Roark said. "But I just felt confident in general and was trusting my stuff to let it work."
On one change he made from recent starts, Roark said he tried to work slower in his windup, which wasn't evident in the two-hour, 24-minute matinee.
"Just [be] slow, slower," Roark said. "Try to think not to be too quick to the plate. I had to let my foot, my leg fire before I go. Unless I get behind the ball, it's flat. It felt good."
Only two Brewers reached scoring position against Roark, who allowed three hits over a season-high eight innings. He said his key was mixing up pitches early on, especially his fastball. It worked, as he struck out five and gave up one hit over the first three frames.
"You've got to get a good feel for your fastball early and let them know you're going to throw it," Roark said. "Just mixed in four-seamers, two-seamers every now and then to keep them honest and attacking."
Roark also struck out a season-high 11, eclipsing his 10 punchouts from last September at Miller Park. In his career, Roark has found success in Milwaukee, allowing six runs over 28 2/3 innings.
"I like pitching here," the right-hander said.
Roark finished the eighth inning at 106 pitches, which was enough for Martinez to pull the starter in favor of Sammy Solis, who surrendered a three-run blast to Hernan Perez in the ninth. Closer Kelvin Herrera recorded the final out.
Roark was welcomed by hugs and support from his teammates upon being removed from his best start in over a year.
"It feels great," Roark said. "I'm happy to have teammates like that, and it feels good to go into the next one. It feels good."
The Nationals' offense provided almost all of the insurance Roark needed in a three-run first inning, while only managing one hit -- a two-run single from Daniel Murphy. Washington added three more hits against rookie Freddy Peralta, including a three-run homer from Bryce Harper and a solo shot by Juan Soto.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Harper's 25th homer: Despite the three first-inning runs and putting two aboard in the fifth, the Nationals only had one hit off Peralta until Harper's three-run home run, which tied him atop the NL leaderboard with his 25th of the season and gave Washington a six-run advantage.
Still, following a 1-for-4 showing in his return to the lineup after being scratched on Tuesday, Harper had positive reviews of his first game against the Brewers' rookie phenom.
"I think [Peralta's] one of the better guys in baseball right now," Harper said. "Establishes both sides of the plate, throws that cutter, sinker, 87 mph, 92 mph. I thought I had some pretty good at-bats against him all the way around and [I was] able to capitalize with guys on base. We were able to do that." More >
Murphy's two-out knock: While the Nationals were reliant on the long ball later in the game, Washington's scoring started with timely hitting in the first inning. Peralta loaded the bases on two walks and a hit-by-pitch, and Murphy drove in the first two runs on a two-out single.
Washington added another two-out run in the first when Soto scored from third on Peralta's wild pitch.
"The biggest thing is we're scoring first, which is nice," Martinez said. "We're scoring early. The biggest thing is taking our walks for this lineup. We have guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Just work good at-bats."
HE SAID IT
"Felt OK. I think it's going to take a couple days for sure. But happy to hit a three-run shot and help out the team today." -- Harper, on how he felt after returning to the lineup after dealing with a stomach virus on Tuesday
Right-hander Stephen Strasburg (6-7, 3.90 ERA) opens the Nationals' four-game series in Miami on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Strasburg surrendered six runs in his first second-half start on Friday against the Braves, but he enters Thursday on a 23-inning scoreless streak vs. the Marlins. Right-hander Dan Straily (4-4, 4.02) starts for Miami.
Stephen Cohn is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee.