- The Washington Times
Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Before the Washington Nationals’ 3-0 victory against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, manager Dusty Baker had high expectations for starting pitcher Tanner Roark.

“A complete-game shutout would be wonderful,” Baker quipped. “You can tell I think big.”

A lofty goal, considering Roark had all of 24 hours notice he’d be making his scheduled start on Wednesday, rather than Thursday? Sure, but the right-hander was not far off.

Roark pitched seven shutout innings and allowed just four hits. The Braves only advanced base runners past second base twice during Roark’s outing. Reliever Oliver Perez sat Atlanta down in order in the eighth inning. Jonathan Papelbon allowed a one-out single in the ninth, then induced a 6-4-3 double play to end the game, one that took all of two hours and 12 minutes. It was Papelbon’s fifth save in as many opportunities.

Such efficiency from Roark and the bullpen was much needed to get the Nationals’ arm back in order. Stephen Strasburg was scratched from his start because of an illness and reliever Blake Treinen was unavailable after pitching three times in the previous four nights.

“He came through big time,” Baker said of Roark.

While Roark was pressed into action quicker than expected, he said he was plenty rested. He last pitched in the Nationals’ home opener, a 6-4 loss to the Miami Marlins last Thursday. The right-hander was pitching on an extra day of rest and was ready to go.

His first start was bumpy. Roark pitched two innings, had to wait out an hour and 25-minute rain delay, then pitched another two. He gave up four runs, three of which were earned. Wednesday’s outing was much different.

Roark scattered base runners in the second and fifth innings, but maneuvered out of the jams. After walking second baseman Jace Peterson with two outs to load the bases, he got pitcher Matt Wisler to groundout.

In the fifth inning, with a runner on second base, Roark issued another two-out walk to right fielder Nick Markakis. A wild pitch to first baseman Freddie Freeman allowed both to advance into scoring position. Freeman, who usually crushes the Nationals, entered the game with a .443 batting average against Washington in the last two seasons. On a 2-2 count, Roark worked his two-seamer inside on the lefty, who was caught looking for strike three.

“Can’t let a plethora of lefties make your game switch,” Roark said of the Braves, who batted seven lefties on Wednesday. “You’ve got to keep going at them and pitch inside.”

Now that Roark helped the Nationals clear a potential obstacle in the rotation, the hope is that Strasburg will be able to pitch on Thursday in the final game of the home stand against Atlanta.

On Monday, Baker heard a hacking cough coming from around a corner. When the Nationals manager saw it was Strasburg, he had one thought.

“I looked around the corner and it was him, and I was like, ‘Oh, no,’” Baker said on Wednesday. I was hoping he was going to feel better yesterday, it was a little better. He’s a little better today.”

Strasburg made his first start of the season on April 6 against the Braves and earned the win in a 3-1 victory. He allowed just one run in six innings.

It’s been an unusual start to the season in terms of handling the rotation. Starter Gio Gonzalez did not make his first start of the season until last night, after his spot was skipped in the rotation to keep Strasburg on his regular rest in the opening week. Last Saturday, Joe Ross was scheduled to start against the Marlins, but the game was postponed and was bumped back to Sunday.

“We’ll get this rotation sooner or later the way we planned,” Baker said.

With Wednesday’s performance, Roark help the Nationals get one step closer to that goal.

• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@washingtontimes.com.

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