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Roark rediscovers himself dialing down velocity

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Roark rediscovers himself dialing down velocity

ATLANTA — It was a loss, one of seven he has suffered this season, one of 77 the Nationals collectively have endured in 2015. So Tanner Roark couldn’t exactly be all smiles in the clubhouse at Turner Field after Tuesday night’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Braves.

Roark, though, did his share of grinning, and deservedly so. Because his performance — 6 2/3 innings of 2-run, 5-hit ball — was a positive development, a much-needed one for the right-hander in his penultimate appearance of a difficult season.

“Definitely it feels very good,” he said. “Just building my confidence up, knowing I can go deep into games and get into the 100s in pitch count and still perform.”

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That’s not something Roark had done in awhile. In four previous starts since rejoining the Nationals’ rotation, he had yet to reach the sixth inning and hadn’t thrown more than 82 pitches. This time, he reached the seventh and totaled 104 pitches.

And he was effective throughout the entire appearance, making only two mistakes along the way: a 1-1 curveball to A.J. Pierzynski in the bottom of the fourth, then a 3-2 fastball to Pierzynski in the bottom of the seventh. The veteran catcher launched both over the fence, accounting for all of Atlanta’s runs on the night.

Roark and the Nationals, though, could take far more positives out of this start than negatives. Perhaps most importantly, he reminded himself he actually can be more effective when he purposely eases up on the gas pedal and doesn’t try to throw as hard as he can.

Throughout the season, much of which he has spent in the bullpen making shorter appearances, Roark has surprised everyone by dialing up his velocity, consistently hitting 95 mph with his fastball for the first time in his career. He has come to realize, though, that he’s not an overpowering pitcher, that he’s better off not throwing as hard but getting more movement and locating better down in the zone.

“Yeah, it showed tonight,” he said. “There were a couple pitches I let loose. But for the most part, I was just trying to hit my spot and stay down in the zone.

“Coming out of the bullpen for an inning or whatever, you feel great … for the most part. And you have a little extra 1-2 mph to your fastball. Of course you see that and it kind of tricks you into thinking, ‘Man, I could blow everything by them.’ But then you lose your location. Letting the ball move, using the sinker more and command down in the zone.”

It was that philosophy — and execution — that allowed Roark to win 15 games and post a 2.85 ERA as a full-time starter last season. Shuttling back and forth between roles this year, he perhaps lost his way, trying to be something he was not.

Perhaps this extended stint back in the rotation, where he wanted to be all along, could help Roark rediscover himself and head into the offseason feeling much better about his place within the organization.

“That’s his comfort zone, certainly,” manager Matt Williams said. “The way we stacked coming out of spring training, he was unfortunately in the bullpen. That’s a good thing for our team as a whole. But it doesn’t allow him to feel that rhythm as much. When he gets a chance to start, he feels it more.”

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Nats prospect update: Three minor-leaguers sent to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera

Nats prospect update: Three minor-leaguers sent to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera

The biggest story in Nationals prospects this week is the three Washington lost to the Royals in return for closer Kelvin Herrera. Here’s a look at what the Nationals gave up to add more depth to the bullpen.

Kelvin Gutierrez, AA 3B

The infielder, formerly on the Nationals’ 40-man roster, has posted a .285/.344/.388 line through his six-season minor league tenure. One of his greatest strengths is his speed, with 55 career stolen bases and 14 extra-base hits this season. His other notable tool is his powerful arm strength, which may help explain his transition from shortstop to the hot corner.

Blake Perkins, High A OF

The Nationals chose outfielder Blake Perkins in the second round of the 2015 draft. He has quite a bit of room to improve at the plate, batting .234/.344/.290 this season in Hagerstown. However, what he lacks offensively, he makes up for in the outfield. According to Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser, Perkins has “plus speed, mature instincts, excellent routes and an above-average arm.”

Yohanse Morel, RHP

The biggest wild card of the group, Morel is a 17-year-old outfielder-turned-pitcher from the Dominican Republic. His fastball reaches 95 mph and he certainly has huge potential for growth. He has not yet pitched in the U.S. since making his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in early June.

So, what did the Nationals gain?

Right-handed closer Kelvin Herrera is a two-time All-Star who is currently in the midst of a stellar season. In his Nats debut, he needed just six pitches to shut down the Orioles in the eight. The team is reportedly (and understandably) thrilled to have Herrera joining the roster. Adam Eaton said, "I'm so happy he's here and he's on my team and I don't have to face him anytime in the near future."

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Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The rain was heavy and relentless. As the puddles grew deeper on the tarp at Nationals Park, the Baltimore Orioles were left to wonder if their bid for a rare road victory would be thwarted by, of all things, the weather.

During a season in which very little has worked in their favor, the Orioles withstood a long rain delay to beat the Washington Nationals 3-0 Wednesday night.

Baltimore led 2-0 after four innings when play was stopped. After a wait of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the game resumed with a few hundred fans from the announced crowd of 32,153 sprinkled around the lower seating bowl.

Mark Trumbo homered for Baltimore, and Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hitter in a game that ended long after midnight.

"It was nice," Trumbo said. "I'm glad that we actually kept the game going. Had we not been able to, it might have been a wash. But it ended up being pretty big for us."

Baltimore ended a six-game losing streak to Washington that began last May, won for only the fourth time in 20 games and improved the majors' worst road record to 10-28.

This one was worth the wait.

"It's never easy, especially when you get over the hour mark, two-hour mark," Trumbo said. "Then you have to restart. It's almost two games in one, so, great job by our guys tonight."

The Nationals managed only two hits following the delay, both in the ninth inning.

"It happens. You can't do anything about the rain," manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to come out and get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to make any excuses."

The rain delay cut short a solid pitching performance by Cashner, who allowed three hits and no walks over four innings in his return from an 11-day stay on the disabled list with back spasms.

Miguel Castro (2-2) followed with two hitless innings, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect seventh and Zach Britton got four outs.

Brad Brach allowed the Nationals to load the bases with two outs in the ninth before striking out Mark Reynolds .

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Gio Gonzalez (6-4), and for a while it appeared the drive would be washed out by the rain.

"One pitch. That was the whole game," Gonzalez lamented. "That was it."

Indeed, it all ended well for the Orioles, who added a run in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled off Shawn Kelley and scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia .

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