WASHINGTON -- Right-hander Tanner Roark had one poor inning and it proved costly as the Nationals were edged by the Reds, 2-1, at Nationals Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Roark lasted six innings and allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits while pitching around a 61-minute rain delay. The Nationals were ahead, 1-0, when Cincinnati scored its two runs in the fourth inning. Zack Cozart, who led off with a double, scored the first run on a single by Brandon Phillips.
Devin Mesoraco followed and reached first on an error by third baseman Kevin Frandsen to put runners on first and second. Two batters later, Brayan Pena brought home Phillips with a single to left field.
"I was getting behind hitters. I wasn't really pitching to contact. I was nibbling a little bit," Roark said about the fourth inning.
After the rain delay in the top of the sixth, Roark came back and pitched a scoreless inning to end his day. Usually, after a long rain delay, a pitcher doesn't return to the mound. Roark felt differently. It helped that he had a simulated game in the bullpen during the delay.
"Since it's was a rain delay, I would throw 10 or 15 pitches every 10 or 15 minutes," Roark said. "I told [pitching coach Steve McCatty] that I felt good, so I went back out there. I wanted to go out there for the seventh, but I got shut down. It is what it is."
Roark's counterpart, Alfredo Simon was outstanding, pitching seven innings and allowing one run on five hits. Simon wanted to pitch the eighth inning, but manager Bryan Price had other ideas.
"The toughest part of my game was telling him he wasn't going to go back out there for the eighth inning," Price said. "He's not just a special talent, but really a special arm. It's a gift to be as resilient as he is. He felt after the hour rain delay that maybe he was more rested and capable of going out there and throwing the eighth inning, maybe the ninth for us."
The Nats' only run off Simon came in the first when leadoff hitter Denard Span swung at an 0-1 pitch and homered into the right-field bullpen. It was Washington's first leadoff home run of the season.
"Any time you lead off the game with a home run, you probably think it's a good day for the offense," Span said. "You have to give credit to Simon. He did a hell of a job. He shut the door down, made good pitches. He is a guy that used to be a closer. Now he is in the starting rotation, and he is tough."
With Simon on the mound, it showed how much the Nationals missed Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman, who are out with injuries. Their absences change the dynamic of the lineup against a right-hander. The Nationals lost that power threat in big situations.
"[Simon] has multiple arm angles. He is a tough matchup for right-handers, anyway," manager Matt Williams said. "He drops down with his fastball, and his fastball is mid-90s fastball too. He has been pitching well for them."
But the Nationals missed opportunities to score more runs. Their biggest chance occurred in the second inning when they had the bases loaded with one out against Simon, but Roark hit into a double play to end the threat.
Asked if Roark should have not swung the bat, Span said, "Tanner swings it pretty good. You don't want him to give up an at-bat. I've seen him go up there and hit a ball hard, through a hole. It's kind of a Catch-22 right there. Who is to say? If I get up there, I might strike out."
The Nationals now go to Pittsburgh to play a four-game series against the Pirates beginning Thursday.
"We are banged up. I feel like we are playing good baseball with our circumstances right now," Span said. "The two games we lost this series, those were tough losses. We had opportunities to win both of those games. We have to move on to the next one and get ready for Pittsburgh."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.