Pitchers on a roll matched up in Mets-Nationals game
NEW YORK — There may not be two pitchers in baseball who have turned their seasons around as drastically during the last few weeks as Zack Wheeler of the New York Mets and Tanner Roark of the Washington Nationals.
The two right-handers will look to continue their summertime resurgences Saturday afternoon when they oppose each other as the Mets host the Nationals in the middle game of a three-game series at Citi Field.
The Mets picked up a 3-0 victory Friday night when New York starter Jason Vargas allowed three hits in six innings and Jay Bruce returned from the disabled list by hitting a two-run homer.
The Mets (57-71) have won or split five straight series. The loss Friday dropped the Nationals (64-65) below .500 for the fourth time since July 29 and left them 8 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East and behind four teams in the battle for the second wild-card spot.
If the last few weeks are any indication, runs will again be at a premium Saturday with Wheeler (8-6, 3.63 ERA) and Roark (8-12, 4.05) squaring off.
Both pitchers had their streaks of consecutive winning starts snapped in hard-luck fashion Monday night. Wheeler allowed one run in seven innings but did not get a decision in the Mets’ 2-1, 13-inning loss to the San Francisco Giants. Roark tossed three scoreless innings of one-hit ball before being pulled after a 102-minute rain delay in the Nationals’ 10-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Wheeler had won his previous six starts, a stretch that began with a victory over the Nationals on July 14. The 28-year-old has a 1.93 ERA and has allowed just 43 baserunners in 46 2/3 innings in his last seven starts, during which he has pitched at least seven innings five times and lowered his overall ERA by more than three-quarters of a run.
“I think my command has gotten a lot better,” Wheeler said Wednesday afternoon. “So that definitely helps out a lot, when you can put the ball where you want it.”
Command has also been a recent key for Roark, who won five straight starts before Tuesday, when he exited with a 1-0 lead. The 31-year-old has a 1.63 ERA in his last six starts, during which he has allowed just 34 baserunners in 38 2/3 innings while lowering his ERA from 4.87 to 4.05.
Roark said after the game he wanted to continue pitching but that he understood why manager Dave Martinez pulled him.
“I felt OK to do it,” Roark told reporters. “But in the long run, if something goes wrong, it was an hour (and) 40 minutes between throwing my last pitch (and returning). So obviously (Martinez is) ruling against it.”
Wheeler is 3-8 with a 4.79 ERA in 12 career starts against the Nationals. In two starts against Washington this year, Wheeler is 1-1 with a 4.61 ERA. His July 14 victory over the Nationals began his six-start winning streak.
Roark is 8-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 21 career appearances (15 starts) against the Mets. Four of those starts against New York came this season, and Roark is 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in those games. He beat the Mets on July 31, allowing just one run in seven innings of a 25-4 victory, but he gave up four runs in five innings against New York on July 13 in a 4-2 defeat, which also represented the last time Roark suffered a loss.