NEW YORK -- In the five days since his last start, Tanner Roark conferred with his manager, pitching coach and other members of the Nationals' field staff. They sifted through video and mined reams of data, searching for ways to rejigger Roark's sliding season.
In a way, the same can be said about Washington as a whole. The Nats continued to tread water Friday night, when a 4-2 loss to the Mets at Citi Field dropped them back to .500 for the 12th time this season. Their record has slid back to even five times in the past 11 days, over which they've gone 5-6.
Thrice during that stretch, it's been a losing effort from Roark that's hindered any forward progress. The Nats can take solace in the fact that, for the last three innings of his start Friday, Roark applied the lessons from those mid-week sessions. He worked ahead in the count. He did not let his delivery escape him with men on base. He halted rallies before they could compound.
But those habits were absent from his first two frames, when Roark allowed four runs on six hits to a Mets lineup that ranks among the National League's most anemic. In support, the Nats squandered a bevy of chances against winning pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who returned after seven weeks on the disabled list. That was enough to hand Roark his fifth consecutive loss and drop the Nats another game behind Philadelphia, which bested the Marlins in Miami.
Washington now sits 6 1/2 games back in the NL East with two games to go before the All-Star break. The Nats have strung together consecutive wins just once in the last calendar month.
"We need to be more consistent with our at-bats, especially with runners in scoring position," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "We need to put the ball in play every now and then. That's what it boils down to. We left so many guys on base today."
It was Roark who sparked the Nats' first run with an opposite-field triple in the third, and Matt Adams who inched them closer with a solo homer off Robert Gsellman in the eighth. But the offense largely sputtered, going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and wasting six innings in which the leadoff man reached.
• Harper relieved he held on for snow-cone catch
Two baserunning decisions caught Martinez's attention during that stretch: Wilmer Difo's questionable decision to try to advance to third on a grounder in front of him led to an avoidable out in the second, and Bryce Harper's failure to run out a sharp grounder sparked questions of his effort in the fifth. Martinez said he'll "have a conversation" with Harper, whose inconsistency has mirrored his team's up-and-down first half.
"I got no beef with Bryce," Martinez said. "I think it was out of frustration."
Friday marked the first time Syndergaard beat the Nationals in more than two years; his last win against Washington came on May 17, 2016. Syndergaard entered play 0-4 with a 6.00 ERA in his last six starts against the Nats.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Roark said he was "still trying to find his thumb" after fisting a 98-mph Syndergaard fastball down the right-field line in the third. The ball spun past right fielder Brandon Nimmo, and Roark found himself in a scramble around the diamond. The triple marked the first by a Nats pitcher in 11 years, since Joel Hanrahan on July 28, 2007. The last three Washington pitchers to triple have done so against the Mets: Roark, Hanrahan, and Livan Hernandez, in 2005.
"Ryan Zimmerman was making fun of me, how I turned the bases," Roark said. "I was just trying to use my inner high school days and trying to be athletic."
HE SAID IT
"Despite what happens in your game, you have to go out there and not give in and keep going. Keep plugging away, fighting, scratching, whatever it takes." -- Roark, who is winless since June 6
It's taken Austin Voth three trips up from Triple-A Syracuse this season, but the right-hander will finally make his MLB debut on Saturday against the Mets. Voth, Washington's No. 23 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has spent much of this week with the club preparing for the start, which comes on the heels of a 4-5, 3.55 ERA first half at Syracuse. He'll oppose Zack Wheeler (2-6, 4.42 ERA) when this series continues with a 4:10 p.m. ET tilt from Citi Field. Trea Turner is also expected back in the Nats lineup, after a one-day absence.