Postgame analysis of the Nationals' 2-0 win over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday afternoon at Nats Park:
How it happened: Tanner Roark has enjoyed plenty of success in the big leagues, but has never been known as a strikeout pitcher, even when he posted a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts back in 2014. That history as more of a pitch-to-contact guy made what transpired on Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park truly bizarre. Not only did Roark set a career-high in strikeouts, he did so with two outs in the fifth inning. For one day and one day only, Roark was striking guys out like his name was Max Scherzer. Roark struck out 15 total batters through seven scoreless innings and was far too much for the struggling Minnesota Twins, who couldn't overcome an early deficit as the Nats won 2-0 and now have a chance to sweep on Sunday. At 13-4, the Nats have matched their best start in franchise history. The 2012 Nats were 13-4 through 17 games, as were the 1981 Expos.
What it means: Roark bounced back from his uneven last outing and is off to a solid start this season overall. He has a 2.63 ERA through four starts and on Saturday looked very much like the guy who put up All-Star caliber numbers just two years ago. This is very good news for the Nationals, who entered this season with some question marks in the backend of their rotation. Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross have been tremendous as a trio. It's very early and they haven't faced good teams, but it's been a very encouraging first few weeks for the Nats' pitching staff.
RoarK sets new career-high: Who is this guy? Roark was lights out on Saturday with 15 strikeouts and just two hits allowed on 121 pitches in seven innings of work. Twelve of the first 14 outs he recorded were on the punchout. Roark's 15 strikeouts were a career-best, topping the 11 strikeouts he had on June 6 of 2014 against the Padres. That was the only other time in his career (89 G, 52 GS) that he had more than eight strikeouts in one game. Roark had 10 strikeouts through the first four innings, which was more than he had in his first three outings of this season combined (9). Last year in 40 appearances (12 starts), his season-high was six strikeouts in one game. He didn't strike out a single batter until his eighth appearance of 2015.
Here is where Roark now ranks in Nats history for the most strikeouts in one game:
Max Scherzer, 17 SO, 10/3/15
Max Scherzer, 16 SO, 6/14/15
Tanner Roark, 15, SO, 4/23/16
Stephen Strasburg, 14 SO, 9/15/15
Stephen Strasburg, 14 SO, 6/8/10
The franchise record, by the way, is 18 strikeouts. That was accomplished by Expos pitcher Bill Gullickson back in 1980. The Nats as a team reached 18 strikeouts with help from their bullpen, which matched a franchise record for a nine-inning game.
Early risers: The Nationals' offense has been a highlight this season and they have been particularly good in the first inning. With two more first-inning runs on Saturday, the Nats have scored more runs in the first than any MLB team has in any inning this season. Here is the leaderboard:
Nats, 24 runs, 1st inning
Rockies, 21 runs, 8th inning
Cubs, 20 runs, 4th inning
Giants, 20 runs, 5th inning
The Nats' two runs came on a single by Ryan Zimmerman. He scored Anthony Rendon, who also singled, and Bryce Harper, who doubled. It was Zimmerman's seventh consecutive game reaching base. He also added another single and a walk in the win.
Harper takes a spill: Harper had two doubles in this game and the second one came at a good time, just moments after he fell in right field going after a ball hit in foul territory. Harper fell and appeared to be favoring an ankle when he got up. He doubled over and put his hands on his knees for several moments. Harper led off the very next inning and got his second double, then tagged up to reach third on a flyout by Zimmerman. Harper looked fine running the bases, so no concern there. Don't be surprised, though, if Harper gets a day off soon. Manager Dusty Baker said he would look to give Harper - who has played every game so far this season - a rest in the coming days.
Up next: The Nats have a chance to sweep the Twins on Sunday with Stephen Strasburg (3-0, 1.25) set to pitch opposite veteran right-hander Ervin Santana (0-1, 3.15).