For the past (almost) two months, Tanner Roark has been an anchor in the Nationals starting rotation. Since June 22, Roark had gone at least six innings in every game he started, eating up innings and allowing the bullpen to rest. That streak came to an end Friday night, as the Pirates arrived at Nationals Park to kick off a three game series.
It wasn’t all bad for Roark. After all, even exiting with a mere 5.2 innings pitched for the game, he managed to pick up his 12th win of the season. If anything, the results were a mixed bag: the Pirates only managed to string together hits in the fourth, when a Starling Marte 2 run homer and a Pedro Alvarez double pushed across the only three runs they scored against the Nats starter.
The real problem on the night was pitch count. Roark’s 5.2 innings were labored; he reached 100 pitches without reaching the seventh inning. After putting a runner on with two outs in the sixth, Matt Williams had no choice but to pull him.
Thanks to the Nats offense, Roark exited with a lead. The Nationals got off to a fast start, with LaRoche and Harper contributing one and two RBIs, respectively, in the first. The offense tacked on another two in the third thanks to Ramos and (again) LaRoche.
When Roark handed the ball over to his manager, the Nationals still held a 5-3 lead. Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen, and Tyler Clippard kept that lead intact, retiring seven straight batters through the sixth, seventh, and eighth. Clippard entered the game riding a streak of 12 straight scoreless appearances. A strikeout, fly out, and ground out later, that streak reached 13.
Then Rafael Soriano appeared, and, once again, the game was in doubt.
Starling Marte lead off the ninth with a single, moved to second on a fielder’s choice, and then to third on a fly to right. It seemed Soriano might escape unscathed, but the next batter, Pedro Alvarez quickly brought Marte in. The Pirates trailed 5-4.
Fortunately, that was how the game would end. Soriano finally managed to record the final out, but not before the go-ahead run was on first and the tying run a mere ninety feet from home, forcing Nats fans to soak their seats in sweat before it was all said and done.
Lately, every single appearance by Soriano has become an exercise in frustration. No matter what the margin is, Nats fans can’t feel at ease until Soriano is untucking his shirt and hugging the catcher. One-two-three innings seem a pipe dream with him on the mound.
Unless Matt Williams gets some sort of sick enjoyment from watching Soriano threaten to choke away every game, it may be time for him to hand the role of closer to someone else. I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing Storen out there in the ninth. Until then, I suppose I’ll just continue wearing out the edge of my seat.
Soriano’s theatrics notwithstanding, a win is a win. The Nationals managed to keep their lead in the NL East at six, with the Braves beating Oakland. The Nats can also count themselves fortunate that they won’t have to face Andrew McCutchen (winner of the “Best Hair in Baseball” award) this series.