Roark pitches Nats to 20 games over .500

Roark pitches Nats to 20 games over .500

WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker may have said it best about Tanner Roark. The skipper called the right-hander a warrior and a competitor who gives his all on the mound.

"If you want to tackle this guy, you better bring a lunch and dinner and some snacks," Baker said.

Roark underrated by many, not by Nats

On Saturday night, Roark brought the kitchen sink and pitched eight-plus innings as the Nationals blanked the Pirates, 6-0, at Nationals Park. Washington is now 56-36, 20 games over .500 for the first time since ending the 2014 season at 30 games over.

"Oh man, he was great," Baker said about Roark. "His two-seamer was coming back on the outside. It looked like the Pirates didn't see it. He had great command of his fastball. He threw some outstanding sliders. What can you say? He is giving us everything we want."

Baker on shutout win vs. Bucs

It marked the fifth straight start that Roark has pitched at least seven innings. His 12 starts of at least seven innings are the most among Nationals pitchers.

"After the third inning, I felt like I woke up a little bit," Roark said. "I went out there. I didn't try to make perfect pitches. But I went in there trying to be aggressive and keep them off balance."

Roark allowed five hits and struck out five. The Pirates had one chance to score off Roark, and that was in the second inning. With two outs, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer hit consecutive singles to put runners on first and third, but Eric Fryer grounded out to shortstop Danny Espinosa to end the threat.

"We had some balls hit pretty hard tonight, just right at guys," Harrison said. "At the end of the day, [Roark] made some pitches, but on the flip side we had some guys take some good swings."

Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole made his first start since June 10 after spending time on the disabled list because of tightness in his right triceps, and he had an outing he would like to forget, allowing five runs (four earned) in four innings. The Nationals' biggest inning was a three-run fourth, with Roark contributing an RBI single.

Stephen Drew collected three doubles and Anthony Rendon hit his 10th home run for the Nats. The Nationals join the Mariners and Cardinals as the only teams in the Majors to have seven players with at least 10 home runs.

After delay, rainbow graces Nationals Park

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
No complete game for Roark: After eight innings, Roark had thrown 102 pitches, but he couldn't get anybody out in the ninth, allowing a single and hitting a batter. So Baker brought in Blake Treinen, who was able to get the final three outs of the game with the bases loaded.

"The base hit to [John Jaso] wasn't no big deal, but when he hit [Starling Marte], it was time to go get him because he would be knocking on 120 pitches unless he threw a double play," Baker said. "The Pirates had some dangerous hitters coming up there."

Roark shuts down Pirates

Cole struggles in DL return: Cole's return from the disabled list didn't go quite as planned for the Pirates. Cole's issues started in the first inning, when he allowed three of the first four batters to reach, and continued throughout his outing. It was Cole's shortest outing of the year (aside from the one he exited with the triceps injury) and only the second time in 2016 he allowed at least four earned runs. More >

"I just didn't execute enough pitches," Cole said. "If I made one quality pitch I'd follow it up with a subpar [pitch]. Always elevated, especially out of the stretch, I got crushed. Just the timing of the game and the rhythm of the game was a little out of sync."

Cole fans Harper swinging

Drew coming through off the bench: Filling in for the injured Daniel Murphy, Drew started at second base and collected three hits, all doubles. Fifteen of his 25 hits have been for extra bases -- eight doubles and seven home runs. More >

Drew's third double of the game

Defense costs Bucs again: Friday night's game at Nationals Park turned on a key defensive mishap by the Pirates, and Saturday's contest was again impacted by a timely error. With the Nats leading 2-0 in the fourth and the bases loaded, Roark poked a grounder to the right side. Harrison gloved the ball but misfired on an off-balance throw to first, allowing an extra run to score and each runner to advance an extra base. By the time the inning was over, Pittsburgh trailed 5-0.

"Do or die," Harrison said of the play. "I ranged and spun, and sometimes we throw it on-line, and sometimes we don't. I was just trying to make an aggressive play."

Roark plates two

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
After stealing two bases Saturday, the Nationals have now swiped as many bags (57) in 92 games this season as they did in all of 2015.

RODRIGUEZ WOWS ON DEFENSE
Cole allowed a run in the first, but it could have been worse if not for right fielder Sean Rodriguez. With a runner on second base and two outs, Rodriguez got a great read on a line drive off Clint Robinson's bat and chased the ball down in the right-center gap to end the inning. Per Statcast™, Rodriguez covered 105 feet on the play with a 98 percent route efficiency and reached a top speed of 19.3 miles per hour. More >

Statcast: Rodriguez lays out

WHAT'S NEXT
Pirates: The Pirates will look to avoid the sweep Sunday with rookie Chad Kuhl on the mound. After two solid starts to begin his Major League career, Kuhl struggled in his final outing before the break, allowing four runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Cubs. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. ET.

Nationals: Right-hander Max Scherzer closed a strong first half with a 3.03 ERA and a Major League-leading 164 strikeouts. He's on pace for 286 strikeouts. The last two pitchers to accumulate that many in a single season were Clayton Kershaw (2015) and Randy Johnson (2004).

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.

Alex Putterman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington and covered the Pirates on Saturday.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.