With his start bumped up a day due to a sick Stephen Strasburg, Nats pitcher Tanner Roark had only 24-hours notice before he faced the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in his second outing of the 2016 season.
That, plus cold temperatures, were not enough to faze the Nats' right-hander, as Roark continued his domination of the Braves, whom he debuted against in 2013. Roark threw seven scoreless innings and now has a 1.78 ERA in 13 appearances against Atlanta.
On this particular day it was his two-seam fastball that led the way. Roark was grooving it inside and out with extra effectiveness against lefties. Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and Mallex Smith, the top of the Braves' order, went a combined 0-for-9 against Roark. Markakis drew two walks, but that's a strong set of results against a dangerous trio of left-handers.
"It's very effective," manager Dusty Baker said about Roark's fastball. "It's some big hitters. You saw Freddie Freeman. You rarely see him go down like that, and I think he threw one to [Erick] Aybar, that comeback sinker on the inside. That's a tough pitch. It looks like a ball, and by the time you see it it's a strike and your only hope is that the umpire can call it a ball."
Catcher Wilson Ramos was impressed by the late movement on Roark's two-seamer.
"It's hard to hit that pitch because all the lefties saw that pitch on their ribs and it come back to the corner. That's really, really hard to hit that pitch. That's good man. Today, all pitches worked good, especially the sinker. Worked inside with that pitch, it worked good," Ramos said.
Roark faced a Braves lineup stacked with lefties, with cleanup hitter Adonis Garcia and and pitcher Matt Wisler as the only right-handed bats that started for Atlanta on Wednesday.
That didn't affect Roark, either.
“I’ve got to pitch my game. You can’t let a plethora of lefties just make your game switch. You’ve got to keep going at them, keep attacking and pitch inside," Roark said.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux helped develop a gameplan for Roark with heavy emphasis on his fastball. Again, with the two-seamer.
"He loves the ride-back to lefties, and to righties. But the biggest thing is: You’ve got to make sure you get it in there. It’s got to come in looking like a ball and then come back. If it starts off as a strike and then goes back over the middle, that’s when you get hurt. So you’ve got to make sure you execute your pitch and make sure it gets in there,” he said.
Roark may have struggled in the team's home opener, but he appears to be back on track thanks to one pitch in particular.