May 3, 2014, 10:28 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals have shown an ability to come from behind this season, but they can’t count on doing it every single night. They definitely weren’t up to the task tonight, falling into an early hole and never digging their way out of it.
Tanner Roark took the brunt of the punishment, allowing seven runs over four innings and putting his teammates in a 3-0 hole in the first inning. It was the eighth time already this season a Nationals pitcher gave up at least three runs in the first. And it only got worse this time. The Phillies battered Roark around, taking some luster off the young right-hander’s otherwise magical career to date.
A.J. Burnett wasn’t about to let the Nationals claw their way back into this one. The veteran right-hander didn’t allow a hit until the fourth, and the only run he allowed in six innings was a solo homer to Adam LaRoche. Burnett would have kept pitching if not for a 24-minute rain delay before the top of the seventh. By then, the game was out of hand and both sides were left to play out the string.
The Nationals (17-13) wound up squandering an opportunity to take over first place in the NL East after the Braves lost their fifth straight game. They’ll take another crack at it Sunday in the series finale at Citizens Bank Park.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: They were playing from behind the entire night, but the Nationals did have a couple of opportunities early to get back in the game before it got out of hand. But they couldn’t deliver with runners in scoring position. Actually, they couldn’t even put the ball in play in most of the instances. They went 1-for-6 with RISP in the second and fourth innings combined, the one hit an infield single by Ian Desmond that didn’t even advance LaRoche. Four of the five outs were strikeouts, two of them by Danny Espinosa. Despite his overall solid numbers at the plate, Espinosa is now 2-for-29 with RISP this season.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: You wondered if Roark was going to have one of these nights eventually, and sure enough this was that night. The Phillies’ lineup was all over everything the right-hander threw. Ryan Howard torched him for a 3-run, opposite-field homer in the bottom of the first. Cody Asche hammered a 3-2 fastball in the bottom of the second for another homer. By the time Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jimmy Rollins each singled to open the fifth, Matt Williams decided he had seen enough. Roark wound up charged with a career-high seven earned runs in a career-low four-plus innings. Given how well he has pitched since debuting late last summer, he probably earned the right to pitch one stinker. The question now is how he’ll respond when he next takes the mound next weekend in Oakland.
KEY STAT: Zach Walters is now 3-for-14 this season with 3 homers, two walks and six strikeouts. He has only hit the ball in the field of play five times in 16 plate appearances.
UP NEXT: The series concludes with an unusual, 3:05 p.m. Sunday start, the byproduct of a 10-mile race being run in the morning near Citizens Bank Park. Gio Gonzalez gets the start against right-hander Robert Hernandez, who used to be known as Fausto Carmona, who is replacing scheduled starter Cole Hamels, who was scratched due to flu-like symptoms.
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