WASHINGTON -- Tanner Roark usually prefers to be interviewed soon after his starts, but following another poor outing Sunday afternoon during the Nationals' 10-2 loss to the Marlins at Nationals Park, reporters stood around Roark's locker in the clubhouse for about 10 minutes, waiting for him to finish his postgame
WASHINGTON -- Tanner Roark usually prefers to be interviewed soon after his starts, but following another poor outing Sunday afternoon during the Nationals' 10-2 loss to the Marlins at Nationals Park, reporters stood around Roark's locker in the clubhouse for about 10 minutes, waiting for him to finish his postgame meal.
When Roark greeted the media about 15 minutes before the Nationals' bus departed for their next series in Pittsburgh, he didn't have much to say. The right-hander said he felt great, but when asked the main reason he's been struggling, Roark responded: "Good question. Next."
Roark allowed four runs over four innings Sunday and has given up 27 earned runs over 31 1/3 innings his his past six starts. Washington hasn't won with Roark on the mound since June 6, as he's been one of the main reasons the Nationals' rotation has struggled over the past month.
The Nationals' loss in the series finale, which was the last game at Nationals Park before All-Star festivities begin next week, snapped Washington's 14-game win streak against Miami. The Nationals still sit five games back of the Braves and Phillies in the National League East.
"We're going to have to sit down and figure this whole thing out with him because I know he's better than that and so does he," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We talk about him throwing the ball down, and he goes through a stretch where he throws the ball down and he looks really good, and then he elevates again and he gets hit. We have to get him to believe that he can throw the ball down."
Roark pitched to a 3.55 ERA in April and 3.18 ERA in May, but he's struggled since. In his previous start, Roark allowed a career-high nine runs over seven innings against the Red Sox.
Roark's been looking for ways to better his fortune. After that Boston outing, Roark shaved all his hair. On Sunday, he changed his warmup song.
Still, Roark continued to struggle. The 31-year-old allowed 10 of the 22 hits Washington permitted. Roark, who recorded a 2.83 ERA in 2016, would've allowed more runs if he didn't escape two bases-loaded jams.
The Nationals stretched their bullpen because of Roark's issues. Martinez didn't want to pitch Ryan Madson in the ninth inning since the right-hander had thrown in two of the Nationals' previous four games entering Sunday. Madson allowed four runs and recorded two outs in the ninth before Washington used third baseman Mark Reynolds to record the final out of the inning, sparking cheers from the fans who remained.
The bullpen isn't tired just because of Roark, though. Max Scherzer has been the only Nationals starter to consistently pitch more than six innings.
"Our starters have to pitch deeper in the game," Martinez said. "That's the bottom line."
The Nationals' offense also struggled to support Roark after scoring a combined 35 runs during the first three games of the series. Washington's two runs came on Daniel Murphy's RBI single and sacrifice fly in the second and third innings, respectively. The Nationals stranded 13 runners on base.
But Martinez knows the Nationals will be in a better position once Roark and his rotation improves. Stephen Strasburg, who's been on the disabled list since June 10 with right shoulder inflammation, is slated to return after the All-Star break. The Nationals have won three of their past four games after their worst slump of the season and hope to continue regaining health and momentum.
"I truly believe that [our starters] picked us up the whole month of May," Martinez said. "Right now they've hit that wall a little bit. I do believe they're going to get better and they have to get better. They know that and they will."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Nationals loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning. Washington had already scored a run in the frame on Murphy's RBI single, but it had a chance to add more after the Marlins scored three in the top of the second.
Instead, Roark struck out, Adam Eaton popped out and Trea Turner struck out to end the frame. Turner threw his bat and helmet to the ground in frustration.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Reynolds shifted from third base to the pitching mound with two outs in the ninth inning, becoming the first Nationals position player to pitch this season. Reynolds forced John Holaday to ground out after throwing three pitches in the mid-70s.
Reynolds' pitches were listed as curveballs, but Reynolds described them as "lob balls."
Reynolds said he practices throwing every day and told Martinez he's wanted to pitch. Reynolds said Sunday was the first time he's pitched since Little League.
"I always said I was going to do all this stuff when I get out there, but I was so nervous," Reynolds said. "The home plate looked a mile away and just tried not to hit anybody. It was a little nerve-racking."
In the bottom of the ninth, Reynolds was announced as a pitcher when he walked up to his at-bat. The 12-year veteran shared a laugh with catcher Holaday and home-plate umpire Jim Reynolds before notching a single for his second hit of the game.
The Nationals will begin a three-game series against the Pirates at PNC Park on Monday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez will take the mound, replacing Erick Fedde, who went to the disabled list Thursday with right shoulder inflammation. Rodriguez has recorded a 5.52 ERA over 14 ⅔ innings in four appearances with Washington. The Nationals are 3-1 in those games. The 24-year-old has struggled in his two starts, however, pitching to a nine ERA in nine innings. Ivan Nova will start for Pittsburgh.
Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.