Tanner Roark wins again as Nationals split with Braves

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The Washington Nationals have experienced a lot of disappointment at the hands of the Atlanta Braves since the start of last season.

It was the Braves who looked frustrated Sunday.

Tanner Roark won his fourth straight start, Denard Span had an RBI double and the Nationals beat the Braves 4-1 Sunday for a split of the four-game series between NL East rivals.

Span, Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche had two hits apiece as Washington won the final two games of the series.

“That’s a really good team that’s had our number the last year and a half, two years. This is a step in the right direction,” a cautious Ryan Zimmerman said. “I really don’t think they’re going anywhere. We’re going to have to continue to play well against them.”

The Nationals improved to 3-7 against Atlanta this season and 9-20 since the beginning of 2013.

Roark (7-4) went 5 1-3 innings, allowing a run and four hits as Washington increased its division lead over the Braves to 1 1/2 games.

“He wasn’t throwing it exactly where he wanted to, but he was able to work through it.” Manager Matt Williams said. “He wanted to stay in the game when I went and got him.”

Craig Stammen came on to end a sixth-inning Braves rally, Tyler Clippard pitched the eighth and Rafael Soriano the ninth for his 17th save. Washington relievers retired all 11 batters they faced, lowering their bullpen’s major league-best ERA to 2.50.

Freddie Freeman had two hits for Atlanta. Evan Gattis went 0 for 3 to snap his 20-game hitting streak.

“You know what, it’s funny, baseball is,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “If we would’ve lost the first two games and won the last two games you’d be feeling pretty good about yourselves. It didn’t happen that way, it happened the other way, so you’re not feeling real good about yourself.”

Atlanta’s Chris Johnson was ejected for arguing a checked-swing call in the sixth. Teammate Justin Upton was ejected for arguing after a swinging strikeout in the ninth.

Ervin Santana (5-5) went six innings, giving up three runs and six hits. He walked one and struck out nine.

With Washington leading 3-0, the first two Braves reached against Roark in the sixth. Williams visited the mound but left Roark in to face Jason Heyward. Roark got Heyward on a fly to right, but Justin Upton singled home Freddie Freeman to make 3-1, ending Roark’s afternoon.

Stammen came on to pitch to Johnson, who attempted to check his swing on a 1-2 pitch. Nationals catcher Sandy Leon appealed the ball call, and first base umpire Tim Welke ruled Johnson had gone around for strike three.

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