Nats’ Roark strikes out 11, looks like his old self in win

NA­TION­ALS 4, DIAMONDBACKS 3

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CHELSEA JANES

phoenix — The Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als have played just fine this month, well enough to move their di­vi­sion lead into dou­ble dig­its, well enough to lend cred­i­bil­ity to the be­lief that it will not shrink much from there. But Satur­day night’s 4-3 win over the Ari­zona Diamondbacks high­lighted the por­tion of their cir­cum­stances lost in the day-to-day minu­tia.

This team, the one that is do­ing just fine and has won eight of its past 11 games, has a chance to be far bet­ter in the next two months than it was in the last two. Re­in­force­ments are prob­a­bly on the way.

One of them ar­rived in force Satur­day evening, when Tan­ner Roark worked seven mas­ter­ful in­nings in which he al­lowed two runs and struck out 11 bat­ters — his third ca­reer game with dou­ble-digit strike­outs and first this sea­son. Roark had not been the same this sea­son as last, but he has now al­lowed two earned runs in his past 13 in­nings.

Roark had a lead be­fore he took the brit­tle Chase Field mound Satur­day. Bryce Harper gave it to him, oblit­er­at­ing a two-strike of­fer­ing from Diamondbacks starter Anthony Banda, a lefty who was mak­ing his ma­jor league de­but.

Like he did at times be­fore the all-star break, Harper did not lift his foot in that fa­mil­iar leg kick when he took the swing. He lifted his back heel, re­placed it and hit a base­ball over the pool be­yond the wall in right-cen­ter.

The Diamondbacks tied the game against Roark in the first, though they nearly didn’t. Chris Ian­netta’s RBI dou­ble was a few inches away from be­ing a harm­less foul ball.

But other than that dou­ble, Roark looked like the near-all­star he was in 2016 — if not bet­ter. His sec­ondary stuff broke and landed for strikes. He threw his change-up wher­ever he needed it. His curve­ball bit and got swings and misses. His slider en­ticed Diamondbacks hit­ters to reach out of the zone. Roark had not struck out eight men in a game since late May. He struck out that many in the first five in­nings Satur­day evening.

Roark never could say ex­actly what ailed him early this sea­son. At times, when he could not click

his me­chan­ics into place, he seemed frus­trated to the point of anger and called him­self “pa­thetic.” While the re­sults did not show much im­prove­ment in June, his post-start de­meanor did, most no­tice­ably af­ter he lasted just three in­nings in St. Louis and seemed dis­ap­pointed but un­con­cerned.

Since then, Roark has in­sisted his stuff felt good, that he could put his pitches where he wanted. The 30-year-old right-han­der’s stuff is good but not able to with­stand missed spots like harder throw­ers can. His strug­gles boiled down to poor com­mand, pitches not ex­e­cuted — all those af­flic­tions that are symp­toms, not causes. What­ever the root cause of Roark’s strug­gles, he seemed to have erad­i­cated the prob­lem over the all-star break.

Un­til the top of the sixth in­ning, he needed ev­ery ounce of com­mand he could find, be­cause the rookie Banda was un­fazed by Harper’s homer and had held the Na­tion­als to one.

Chris Heisey wasn’t sup­posed to be in the Na­tion­als’ lineup Satur­day. But Ryan Raburn’s grand­fa­ther died, and the vet­eran was, as his man­ager put it, “shook up.” Raburn will de­part the team for be­reave­ment leave Sun­day, and catcher Pe­dro Sev­erino will take his ros­ter spot. Heisey took Raburn’s place in the lineup Satur­day night, alerted a few hours be­fore the game that he would start in left field.

In the sixth, Heisey pulled a pitch into the left field cor­ner and did not stop run­ning as Chris Her­mann pur­sued it and then strug­gled to re­trieve it. As a re­sult, Heisey had a chance for third, and he slid in just be­fore Jake Lamb’s tag with a one-out triple.

At that point, Banda could have walked Harper, but he pitched to him in­stead. Harper hit a dou­ble the op­po­site way, his sec­ond hit and RBI of the game, which al­ready marked his 15th con­sec­u­tive game with a hit — a ca­reer high.

Ryan Zimmerman, who has been strug­gling, fol­lowed that with his sec­ond hit of the night, a dou­ble to cen­ter — the 361st two-base hit of his ca­reer, which pushed him past Tim Wal­lach for most in Ex­pos/Na­tion­als his­tory. Anthony Ren­don drove home a run with an in­field sin­gle to push the Na­tion­als’ lead to three.

That mid­dle of the or­der squan­dered a chance to add to the lead in the sev­enth, when Jorge De La Rosa struck out Harper and Zimmerman with the bases loaded. At times this sea­son, missed op­por­tu­ni­ties to take out in­sur­ance poli­cies felt like bad omens, fore­telling the loss of a late-game lead that could have been big­ger.

But Ryan Mad­son worked around a one-out dou­ble to throw a score­less eighth for the sec­ond straight night. Sean Doolit­tle re­lieved him and found ad­ven­ture for the sec­ond time in two Na­tion­als out­ings when a lead­off walk and a Ren­don er­ror put the ty­ing run aboard with no­body out. But Doolit­tle got out of it and earned his sec­ond save in those two chances.

The Na­tion­als did not have late-in­ning options like Doolit­tle and Mad­son as they climbed 20 games over .500 ini­tially and built this lead in the Na­tional League East — a fact that can be looked at in one of two ways. The first would be to think of what might have been. The sec­ond would be to con­sider what could be.

JOE CAMPOREALE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Chris Heisey bats in the sev­enth in­ning for the Na­tion­als. He went 1 for 4 with a triple and a walk.

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