Nats go qui­etly against Rock­ies

Mar­quez cools off bats in se­ries opener

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CHELSEA JANES

When ma­jor league pitch­ers talk about “ex­e­cut­ing” or re­peat sta­ples of their jar­gon such as “com­mand” and “just miss­ing,” they numb those lis­ten­ing to the real­ity of their craft. Those words do not be­tray the true dif­fi­culty of their du­ties, the minute mar­gin for er­ror with which they work and the tiny gap be­tween a good pitch and a pitch hit deep.

The pre­vi­ous time the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als faced Colorado Rock­ies right-han­der Ger­man Mar­quez, he did not ex­e­cute, and they pun­ished him. This time, as he pitched the Rock­ies to a 4-2 win over the Na­tion­als, he did, and they could not do much at all.

Mar­quez took a per­fect game into the sixth in­ning, and he is not the first to stun the Na­tion­als into fu­til­ity lately, po­tent though they are of­fen­sively. On a crisp July evening af­ter a day and a half of rain, he dom­i­nated.

“He had a very good break­ing ball tonight. He was throw­ing it over for strikes early, and then late he was bounc­ing them. He was get­ting strike one,” Na­tion­als Man­ager Dusty Baker said. “. . . He threw the ball great tonight. Noth­ing against our hit­ters, it was just he was beat­ing them tonight.”

Story lines blew around the blus­tery evening, from a video mon­tage that hon­ored for­mer Na­tional Ian Des­mond be­fore the game to the meet­ing at home plate of Baker and Rock­ies Man­ager Bud Black, who were both can­di­dates to serve as the man-

here. But the matchup of Mar­quez and Tan­ner Roark, of pin­point con­trol and some­thing less, ul­ti­mately de­fined the night.

Roark reemerged since the all-star break, seem­ingly tak­ing Baker’s ad­vice to heart to start anew, a per­fect ex­am­ple of what can hap­pen when com­mand be­comes con­sis­tent and when ex­e­cut­ing hap­pens enough to over­come er­ror.

But on Satur­day, Roark strug­gled on the mar­gins again, not lack­ing com­mand en­tirely but need­ing a lit­tle more than he had, un­able to bury Rock­ies hit­ters be­fore they pushed him to deep counts. Trevor Story hit a two-run homer in the sec­ond.

Roark al­lowed two more runs in the fifth, by which time his pitch count rose to 109. In his im­pres­sive 2016 sea­son, Roark needed roughly five pitches per out. This sea­son, he is av­er­ag­ing nearly a full pitch more per out, which might not seem like a lot but amounts to 15 pitches over five in­nings — the equiv­a­lent of one more in­ning per start.

“It’s a tough lineup and a deep lineup, so he was grind­ing through it,” Na­tion­als catcher Matt Wi­eters said.

“His pitch count prob­a­bly got up there but kind of have to some­times when they have a lineup that deep.”

The Na­tion­als (61-40) could have used an­other in­ning from Roark given that they will play a dou­ble­header Sun­day and rookie Erick Fedde will make his de­but in the first game, while Ed­win Jack­son will pitch the sec­ond. But his evening ended af­ter al­low­ing four runs in five in­nings with four walks.

“I don’t mind get­ting be­hind 2-0, 1-0, what­ever,” Roark said. “I have four pitches I can throw for strikes, and I’m not afraid to throw them in any count. The walks def­i­nitely hurt to­day, but over­all I felt pretty good.”

By the time Roark left the game, Mar­quez had al­lowed the Na­tion­als noth­ing — no hits, no runs, noth­ing.

Fun­nily enough, the Na­tion­als crushed Mar­quez in Colorado, van­quish­ing him with nine hits and eight runs in four in­nings in April. But base­ball ebbs and flows, and the Na­tion­als, with­out Trea Turner, Jayson Werth, Adam Ea­ton and Michael A. Tay­lor, are not the same team they were then.

With a quicker-than-it-seems that made his 98-mph fast­ball seem faster and his curve­ball all the more dev­as­tat­ing, Mar­quez cruised into the sixth in­ning, send­ing 16 straight bat­ters from one of the league’s best of­fen­sive teams back to the dugout.

With the evening quickly de­volv­ing into an un­com­fort­able game of “some­body-just-get-ahit,” Wi­eters sin­gled to left field to re­store nor­malcy. Then Howa­ger ie Ken­drick, ac­quired late Fri­day night and ac­ti­vated late Satur­day af­ter­noon, drove a ball to the gap in left-cen­ter in his first Na­tion­als at-bat. Ken­drick, the 34-year-old who spent most of this year with the lan­guish­ing Philadel­phia Phillies, earned a stand­ing ova­tion from the Na­tion­als Park crowd.

As a right-handed bat off the bench — or even in the start­ing lineup un­til Jayson Werth re­de­liv­ery turns — the ca­reer .290 hit­ter could prove a sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tion, now and on breezy nights like this a few months from now.

Wilmer Difo drove in two runs with a sin­gle that landed inches in­side the left field foul line. The mar­gins for hit­ters are tiny, too, but Difo has been thriv­ing lately. Af­ter that hit, he is 21 for 56 (.375) in July, just when the in­jury-rid­dled Na­tion­als have needed him most.

Mar­quez’s night ended af­ter seven in­nings, two runs and a ca­reer-high 10 strike­outs, at which point he gave way to newly ac­quired re­liever Pat Neshek. That Na­tion­als have a few newly ac­quired re­liev­ers of their own, and some thought Neshek might join them in the Dis­trict.

As it hap­pened, he threw a 1-2-3 eighth. Greg Hol­land, for whom Na­tion­als Gen­eral Man­ager Mike Rizzo had a deal in place this off­sea­son be­fore own­er­ship ve­toed it, threw a per­fect ninth for his 32nd save in 33 op­por­tu­ni­ties. In ros­ter con­struc­tion, as in pitch­ing, near misses mold fates.

MARK TE­NALLY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Daniel Mur­phy and the Na­tion­als fell be­hind Colorado 4-0 be­fore they man­aged to get a base run­ner.

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