WASHINGTON — Last year at this time, Washington Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark was still weeks away from making his Major League debut.
He continues to pitch like a veteran.
Roark pitched seven strong innings, and Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos drove in three runs apiece to lead the Nationals over the Milwaukee Brewers 8-3 Saturday night.
The 27-year-old Roark (9-6), who spent nearly six seasons in the minors, lowered his ERA to 2.91 and moved ahead of Doug Fister for the team lead in wins.
“I think it’s one of the coolest things about baseball, the stories that we see develop,” Zimmerman said. “Tanner’s one of the best stories and shows if you keep working hard, keep doing what you’re supposed to do, like he does, it’ll pay off. He’s been great.”
Staked to a 5-0 first inning lead, Roark gave up one run and six hits with five strikeouts.
“It’s a lot weight off my shoulders whenever we get five runs in the first,” he said
In his first full season as a starter, he has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of 19 outings.
Against a Milwaukee team that Washington manager Matt Williams said hits both the fastball and curveball well, Roark relied more on his slider than his curve.
“I actually changed my grip on it, so that helped out a lot,” Roark said, adding he learned the grip from Jordan Zimmermann. “I’ve been able to throw it a lot harder.”
Milwaukee starter Matt Garza (6-7) faced eight batters and got just one out, allowing four singles, a double and two walks in the shortest of his 211 big league starts dating to 2006. His previous low was 1 1-3 innings at the Marlins on June 18, 2010, according to STATS.
“Call it what you want, man, just wasn’t a good day,” Garza said.
Garza had been 4-2 with a 2.35 ERA in his previous eight outings, but Saturday’s effort caused his season ERA to rise from 3.69 to 4.04. He dropped to 0-3 with a 7.33 ERA in six career starts against the Nationals.
Ryan Braun hit a two-run homer in the eighth for the Brewers, tied with St. Louis atop the NL Central.
Denard Span led off the first with a single and, after Anthony Rendon struck out, Werth blooped a double to right.
Adam LaRoche’s walk loaded the bases, and Zimmerman bounced a single up the middle for a 2-0 lead.
“I felt fine, nothing felt off, ” Garza said, “just … started off the game with a gem shot single…another bad break and then Zimm hit a four-hopper up the middle.”
Bryce Harper’s eight-pitch walk reloaded the bases, Ian Desmond’s dribbler for an infield single drove in a run and Ramos chased Garza with a two-run single. Ramos is 24 for 61 (.393) with nine RBIs in his last 17 games.
“You want to be aggressive and you’ve got an opportunity for a crooked number there,” Williams said. “I think the big at bat there was Wilson’s. He got behind, got to two strikes, and got a slider out, that’s a big cushion there.”
Milwaukee got a run in the second when Jonathan Lucroy doubled, stole third and scored when Ramos’s throw skipped into left field for third first of two errors by the catcher.
Run-scoring singles by Ramos in the third and Zimmerman in the fourth made it 7-1 against Marco Estrada, who pitched 5 2-3 innings of relief.
Zimmerman is 26 for 75 (.347) with 17 RBIs since June 24.
LaRoche added a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
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