Tanner Roark has been perhaps the Nationals' most pleasant surprise during a tumultuous season. They'll need him to continue his breakout performance as they try to continue a frantic rally in the National League playoff chase.
Roark, a rookie right-hander, will start for the Nats on Thursday afternoon as they close a four-game series against the Mets at Citi Field. Washington is looking to complete a sweep and notch its sixth straight victory while cutting into a six-game deficit for the second NL Wild Card Spot.
A win on Thursday would close the Nationals' road trip at 8-2 and hand the Mets their ninth loss in 11 games.
Roark completed nine stellar relief appearances before the Nationals gave him a shot in the rotation. He responded by tossing six scoreless innings against the Marlins last Saturday, throwing only 71 pitches and giving up four hits, all singles. The 26-year-old struck out four and walked none, earning high praise from manager Davey Johnson.
"I knew I had something," Johnson said. "He's got great command and he's made quality pitches out of the 'pen. I see it from where I'm sitting and even with talking to [Wilson] Ramos -- he loves to catch him because he hits his spots. It's one thing to have good stuff, but best thing in the world is to have that good command. He throws it like Satchel Paige -- 'Be where I want it to be.'"
Roark has allowed 18 hits in 28 2/3 innings overall, with seven walks and 23 strikeouts.
"Like I've been telling the guys since I've been up here, 'Just keep going at guys, keep attacking and don't give in to anybody,'" Roark said.
The Mets will counter with Aaron Harang, who is making his debut for the club after it signed him to a Minor League deal on Aug. 31. The 35-year-old right-hander, released by the Mariners, chose the Mets, the only team to offer him a chance to start.
"I think the biggest thing was to be in a rotation, and hopefully be the veteran to help answer questions for the younger guys," Harang said. "Just to finish out my season on a strong note, I think was the biggest thing."
Harang went 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA and 21 home runs allowed in 22 starts for Seattle, giving up seven earned runs in three of his final five outings. Before the Mets called him up, he made one appearance for Triple-A Las Vegas, throwing four innings in a Pacific Coast League playoff game on Saturday.
This start marks Harang's return to the NL, where he spent the previous 10 seasons. The Mets are the 12-year veteran's sixth team and fifth going back to 2010.
Nationals: Harper returns
Left fielder Bryce Harper was in the Nationals' lineup on Wednesday, his first appearance since last Friday. Harper, who has been dealing with left hip inflammation, had an MRI that came back negative and was cleared to play after running in the outfield and taking batting practice.
Harper picked up an infield single in the fourth inning, running hard and beating out a routine grounder to third base. He finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts.
• Left-hander Ross Detwiler threw a 30-pitch bullpen session at Citi Field on Wednesday and didn't feel any pain in his back. Detwiler, who last pitched July 3, is hoping to return from a back strain before the end of the season. He is scheduled for another bullpen session on Saturday.
Mets: Wright getting closer
Third baseman David Wright ran the bases in a workout for the first time since suffering a hamstring strain on Aug. 2. Manager Terry Collins called Wednesday's test "good progress."
"We'll run him again tomorrow and we'll try to amp it up over the weekend," Collins said.
Wright is trying to return to the Mets before the end of the season.
• Infielder Justin Turner left Tuesday's game with right hamstring tightness. An MRI on Wednesday revealed a mild strain, and Collins said Turner will be shut down for a few days.
• Nationals center fielder Denard Span extended his hitting streak to 22 games on Wednesday.
• The Nationals hold an 11-7 lead in the season series going into Thursday's finale.
• Roark's final relief appearance came against the Mets on Aug. 31 in Washington. He gave up one run on three hits over 3 1/3 innings, with three walks and five strikeouts.