Jun 22, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: In a season of 162 games, it’s not often a team experiences ups and downs as dramatic as the Nats have over the last four days. Entering their four-game series with the rival Braves, the Nationals lost their first two in frustrating fashion, briefly losing their grip on first place in the NL East. Now, two days later, the Nats are back on top thanks in large part to starting pitchers Doug Fister and Tanner Roark.
It was Roark’s turn in the Nationals’ 4-1 win over the Braves on Sunday, a victory that earned them a series split and a game-and-a-half lead in the division. Roark tossed 5 1/3 innings with just a run allowed, four hits, three walks and three strikeouts. He continued his success against the Braves, now boasting a 2.35 ERA in 23 total innings (5 appearances).
Roark had the benefit of some early offense from his teammates who knocked Braves starter Ervin Santana for two runs in the first inning. They got some insurance in the fifth and eighth innings with two more runs and took care of the Braves in convincing fashion before a big series at the NL-best Milwaukee Brewers starting Monday.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: The Nationals got off to a great start with two quick runs in the first inning to establish an early lead. The rally started with Anthony Rendon walking with one out. He then moved to second on a Jayson Werth single and scored one at-bat later on an Adam LaRoche single to center field. Ryan Zimmerman then hit a long flyball to center field to get Werth home from third on a sacrifice fly.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Roark gave the Nationals just what they needed on Sunday, only allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings. He kept the Braves scoreless into the sixth inning and by then was working with a three-run lead.
Roark was even able to limit the damage done by Freddie Freeman, a noted Nats killer. Freeman reached base in each of his three at-bats against Roark. The first and third were on singles and the second was on a fielding error by Adam LaRoche. Only in his third at-bat did he eventually score, notching the only run of the afternoon off the Nationals’ pitcher.
Freeman has long tormented the Nats, so to have him get on base three times but otherwise have a quiet afternoon, says something about Roark’s ability to stay in control, even while conceding a bit to the opponent’s best player.
DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT: Ian Desmond made one of the best defensive plays by a National all season in the top of the second inning. Chris Johnson hit a hard groundball up the middle with two outs, forcing Desmond to field it on a full sprint running into the outfield. He turned on the run and made an off balance throw that connected perfectly with LaRoche at first. LaRoche didn’t even have to move to catch the ball, it was right on the numbers.
KEY STAT: Span is now hitting for a higher average (.274 to .271) and has a better slugging percentage (.402 to .386) than Werth.
UP NEXT: The 39-35 Nationals now head to Milwaukee to battle the Brewers, one of 2014’s most surprising teams and owners of the National League’s best record. Gio Gonzalez (3-4, 4.85) will make his second start since returning from left shoulder inflammation. Pitching for the Brew Crew will be right-hander Matt Garza (4-4, 4.02).
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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