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Tanner Roark torched as Marlins avoid sweep

July 9, 2018

As the sun began to set behind the third-base grandstand, 11 members of the grounds crew worked on smoothing the infield dirt at Nationals Park on Sunday evening, with the Major League All-Star Game coming July 17.

If the men in the red polo shirts and brown shorts needed to make it an even dozen, they should have summoned Mark Reynolds, who did a little bit of everything this weekend for the Nationals.

Reynolds, a hitting hero earlier in the series, was called on to pitch in the top of the ninth Sunday to save the bullpen as the Nationals were blasted 10-2 by the Miami Marlins, who had 22 hits to prevent the hosts from sweeping the four-game series.

What pitches did Reynolds throw to Bryan Holaday, who grounded out to first baseman Matt Adams?

“I just lobbed the ball,” said Reynolds, forcing a smile. “I didn’t cover first though.”

You can excuse Reynolds from being too tired to sprint over to first with his team getting pummeled.

Pitching for the first time since Little League, the right-handed Reynolds was one of six Nationals pitchers Sunday and the only one who did not allow a hit.

“It wasn’t more fun because we were getting beat pretty bad,” said Reynolds, when asked to compare pitching with hitting this weekend. “I was going a mile a minute. It was a little nerve-wracking.”

“He will do whatever,” Dave Martinez, the Nationals manager, said of Reynolds.

The loss before a sun-baked crowd of 30,464 spoiled what had been a memorable weekend at Nationals Park for the hosts, who held a players-only meeting on Wednesday after losing their fifth game in a row.

The Nationals responded by winning 14-12 on Thursday as they overcame a 9-0 deficit to the Marlins in the best comeback in franchise history. The next night Reynolds hit a walk-off homer in the last of the ninth for a 3-2 win.

Then on Saturday night Reynolds, starting at first base, went 5-for-5 with two homers and 10 RBI as the Nationals won 18-4. The former University of Virginia standout became the fourth player in big league history to record a perfect day at the plate and get at least 10 RBI.

His streak came to an end Sunday with seven hits in a row as he started at third base, giving regular third sacker Anthony Rendon a day off.

Reynolds brought some levity to the Nationals clubhouse before the team boarded a flight to Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

A more pressing concern is Tanner Roark (3-11), the starting pitcher for the Nationals on Sunday. He gave up four runs on 10 hits in just four innings and allowed the leadoff runner to reach all four times as his ERA rose to 4.76.

Roark gave up a career-high nine earned runs in his last start, against the Red Sox on Tuesday in an 11-4 win. He has not won since an 11-2 victory at home June 6.

What happened Sunday?

“I do not know. Felt great,” said the unusually terse Roark. “Usually thigh-high pitches get smoked.”

Martinez said he and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist need to sit down with Roark and try to figure out what is wrong.

Roark was 15-10 as a starter in 2014, 16-10 in 2016 and 13-11 last year, though he pitched better in the second half of the year.

“I know he is better than that and so does he,” Martinez said of Roark. “When he gets the ball down (in the strike zone) he is really good.”

The only Washington starting pitchers to get a win since Roark won at home over Tampa Bay is Erick Fedde on June 29 at Philadelphia and Max Scherzer on Saturday against the Marlins.

And the Nationals combined to score 35 runs in those two games.

“Our starters have to go deeper in games,” Martinez said.

Reynolds, who grew up in the Tidewater region of Virginia, was an infielder at the University of Virginia and has played mostly third base and first base in his big league career.

In his first year with the Nationals, he could be expendable if and when first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, his former teammate at Virginia, comes off the disabled list.

But for now, he is taking advantage of his playing time though don’t expect him to pitch anytime soon.

“I always wanted to do it,” Reynolds said of pitching. “It was a cool experience.”

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