WASHINGTON — The way the Washington Nationals have been playing, it wasn’t enough for Tanner Roark to pitch effectively into the seventh inning. He also had to drive in a run — his first since 2016 — and talk manager Dave Martinez into leaving him in to face one last hitter.
Roark (2-2) fanned Jordy Mercer to finish the seventh and helped the injury-depleted Nationals muster just enough offence to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 on Monday night and end a disappointing April with their second straight victory.
"Well, there’s a guy that’s won over 50 games since 2014," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The guy can pitch. And he throws everything at you. He’s very unpredictable on the mound."
Seven of Washington’s last eight games have been decided by one or two runs, and the Nationals are 2-5 in those contests. Washington left eight men on base.
"That was exciting," Martinez said sarcastically. "We gotta start scoring runs when we can. They’re playing well, they really are, but when we have a chance to put teams away, we’ve gotta start putting them away."
Starting pitcher Jameson Taillon (2-3) drove in the first run for the Pirates with a two-out double to deep left-centre in the fifth. He worked six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, as NL Central-leading Pittsburgh lost for the first time since his previous start. The Pirates had won five straight.
Roark allowed two runs on six hits, struck out four and induced two double-play grounders for his first win since April 2. After allowing Corey Dickerson’s homer to deep left leading off the seventh to pull the Pirates within one, Roark retired Francisco Cervelli and struck out Colin Moran before the visit from Martinez. Roark told his manager he could get Mercer out.
"I looked at (catcher Matt) Wieters, and said, ‘Can he?"’ Martinez said. "And Wieters says, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘All right, it’s your guy, let’s go."’
Batting in the fourth with runners on first and second, Roark bunted the first pitch foul. Then Taillon threw a wild pitch, allowing the runners to advance. Roark hit the next pitch up the middle to score Wieters and put the Nationals ahead 2-1, his second hit this season and his fifth career RBI.
"You usually should be relieved you see the pitcher up there, and then you give up the hit to him up the middle," Taillon said. "He did his job, too. Not ideal, but it happens."
Trea Turner followed with a run-scoring single, one of his three hits on the night.
Ryan Madson retired the side in the eighth and Brandon Kintzler worked the ninth for his first save in place of regular closer Sean Doolittle, who had pitched in the previous three games.
"Any time a guy’s going to go into the seventh for us, we’ve got to lock it down for him," said Kintzler, who also worked his third consecutive day.
Nationals: 2B Daniel Murphy (off-season knee surgery) was back with the team after spending two weeks at extended spring training in West Palm Beach, Florida, and was scheduled to be re-evaluated by team doctors. He has been hitting, running and taking ground balls, Martinez said. There is still no timetable for his return. … 3B Anthony Rendon (left toe contusion) became eligible to come off the 10-day disabled list on Sunday, and no decision has been made on whether he will have a minor league rehab assignment.
Pirates: CF Starling Marte was out of the starting lineup for the first time this season but popped out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. … LHP Enny Romero said he had been trying to pitch through pain in his throwing shoulder before he told team trainers about the injury on Sunday. Pittsburgh had planned to designate him for assignment but instead placed him on the 10-day DL, retroactive to Thursday.
The Nationals shook up their bullpen again, recalling right-hander Wander Suero from Triple-A Syracuse and sending right-hander Austin Voth back to Syracuse one day after he was promoted to the big leagues. Voth has been a starter for nearly his entire minor league career, while Suero is a reliever with 30 career minor league saves.
Suero had a chance to make the team out of spring training before he suffered an oblique injury on March 9. He was 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in four appearances for Syracuse but did not allow a run in his last three outings.
"I like his ability to get both lefty hitters and righty hitters out. He’s got a really good cutter and he throws strikes," Martinez said.
Last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner, Max Scherzer (5-1, 1.62 ERA), who threw his first of two career no-hitters against the Pirates on June 20, 2015, starts for Washington. Pittsburgh right-hander Chad Kuhl (3-1, 4.55) allowed six runs on 10 hits in four innings in his previous start against the Nationals last May.