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Roark steps in to help seal sweep of Mets

Zimmerman goes 4-for-5 with solo homer, his first of the season

NEW YORK -- The Nationals made a last-minute pitching change on Thursday. Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was scratched because of flu-like symptoms and replaced by right-hander Tanner Roark, who admirably helped the Nationals pound the Mets, 8-2, at Citi Field. Washington swept the three-game series to start the season.

"It's a good start. Our starting pitchers threw well, we scored some runs and [we were able to get] three wins," Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We'll take that. We go on and just keep it going."

Roark didn't know he was going to throw until Thursday at 10:00 a.m. ET, when pitching coach Steve McCatty approached the right-hander, who was scheduled to pitch the home opener at Nationals Park on Friday.

At first, McCatty said Roark was possibly starting because Zimmermann may be sick. When Zimmermann entered the clubhouse, Roark saw how bad Zimmermann looked and knew he was going to pitch a day early.

"Jordan came in and looked like he was pretty sick," Roark said. "Everybody gets sick every now and then. So I picked up my teammate. That's what we do."

In fact, Roark's parents were driving from Wilmington, Ill., to Washington to see their son pitch in the opener. But Roark's parents were close to Ohio when they received word from his wife that he was pitching Thursday.

"What's happening?," Roark's mother responded to her son in a text.

"I told them while they were on the road," Roark said. "They were bummed out, but we still get to spend time together. It's their first time in DC, so that will be fun."

Roark didn't mind the last-minute change as he pitched six innings, allowed two runs on six hits and struck out five batters. He is used to pitching in last-minute situations. After right-hander Doug Fister suffered elbow inflammation on March 7, Roark was asked to start against the Astros. Roark pitched 2 2/3 innings and allowed a run in that game.

"I go with the flow. Whatever they tell me to do, I'm here," Roark said. "They want me to pitch whenever, I'll pitch then. This is basically up to them. I just get the ball and throw it."

Roark got off to a slow start on Thursday, allowed those two runs in the first inning and threw 31 pitches. Daniel Murphy scored on a double by Curtis Granderson, while David Wright came home on a sacrifice fly by Juan Lagares.

But Roark was able to settle down after that, allowing three hits in the next 5 2/3 innings. It helped that he stopped using his off-speed pitches and relied on his fastball.

"It was a rough first inning for Tanner, but he settled in nicely," manager Matt Williams said. "It was easy to have everything snowball right there, but he stopped it and gave us a chance, which is great.

"He didn't have a good feel for a breaking ball. He left some balls up, but he settled in. It's been a while since he pitched. So he got the feel starting in the second inning."

Mets manager Terry Collins noticed how Roark performed after the first inning.

"The one stat that sticks out, he had a 31-pitch first inning and I looked up in the fifth inning and he had 60 pitches, four innings later," Collins said. "So once again, that kind of tells you we weren't looking at a lot of pitches. He was getting us out. Even when we got balls to hit, we didn't do any damage with them and that's what we've got to start doing."

Right-hander Zack Wheeler started for New York and, like Roark, lasted six innings, but he couldn't hold on to an early lead. The Nationals made it a 2-1 game in the second inning when Zimmerman hit a mammoth home run over the left-field wall. He ended up going 4-for-5 in the game.

Three innings later, Denard Span made it a 2-2 game when he singled to right field, scoring Sandy Leon. Span would later score the go-ahead run on a single by Jayson Werth.

The Mets' bullpen then entered the game and -- like the previous two contests -- had a tough time getting hitters out. This time, the Nationals scored a combined four runs against left-hander Scott Rice and right-hander Jeurys Familia in the seventh inning. Adam LaRoche highlighted the scoring with a two-run single with the bases loaded.

The Nationals added another run off right-hander Carlos Torres an inning later. LaRoche walked with the bases loaded, scoring Anthony Rendon. The Mets relievers allowed 12 runs in the three-game series.

"Coming out of the bullpen, we've got to start throwing some strikes," Collins said. "When we're successful, it's because we make them swing the bat. Not that they can't get a hit, but when you fall behind, when you're behind in the count, you're going to get in trouble in this league."

The Nationals now go back to Washington to face the Braves, last year's National League East Champions. Atlanta won 13 out of 19 games against Washington last year.

"They are really a good team, so we have to play well if we are going to beat them," Williams said. "We want to continue the way we are playing, continue to do things right. If we can do that, then we have a chance."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.
Read More: Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Tanner Roark