WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 03: Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals tries to use his telepathic abilities to regain control as he struggled with his command against Atlanta on Sunday in a loss to the Braves. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)
A (5-0) May in which he posted a 2.25 ERA, a 1.92 FIP, 0.94 WHIP, 13 BB (3.66 BB/9) and 45 K's (12.66 K/9) in 32.0 IP earned 26-year-old Washington Nationals' left-hander Gio Gonzalez recognition as MLB's Pitcher of the Month as the Nats announced before Sunday's start against the Atlanta Braves. The Nationals' no.2 starter held Atlanta to two runs on one hit and three walks in 7.0 IP in which he K'd 10 and threw 108 pitches when he faced the Braves the previous week on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, but in the nation's capital yesterday, Gonzalez gave up seven hits, three runs and three walks in just 4.2 IP in which he struck out five and threw 91 pitches in what was his second shortest outing of the season after Opening Day in Chicago when he lasted just 3.2 IP before he was lifted. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson took Gonzalez out after he'd allowed a single and two walks to load the bases and surrendered a two-run single by Jason Heyward that made it 3-2 Atlanta after Rookie of the Month of May Bryce Harper and fellow Nats' rookie Steve Lombardozzi had given the Nationals a 2-0 lead with back-to-back HR's in the bottom of the first.
"I thought he had pretty good stuff, but he had no command," Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters after the game when asked what had gone wrong for the lefty, "His command was way off today. He really couldn't get the ball in and he wasn't using the inside of the plate. [It's] a rare occasion that he doesn't have pretty good command and today was one of them."
"The positive about it," Gio Gonzalez said after the loss, "Is you look at our bullpen. They came in and cleaned up some of the mess and just kept us in the game as long as possible. Some of the guys were in there talking about, 'We're going to get you some runs,' they were fighting. You see that kind of sign of life and showing that they want to compete and they're going out there trying to get you a win, it's a positive thing for me."
If you haven't noticed already, Gonzalez tends to stress the positive whenever possible and as he continued to talk to reporters Sunday, he continued to do so when asked about his control issues on the mound, explaining that it was just a case of, "... falling behind on guys. Especially good hitters like that. You try not to get behind on them and when I did, they made it work. They made me go out there and throw some pitches and make them in their count. So, one of those positive things is these guys were trying their best to get us some outs, but I couldn't get it in there, so hopefully we change that around next start."
Gonzalez's last inning started with speedy Braves' center fielder Michael Bourn beating the pitcher to first on a grounder to Adam LaRoche for a leadoff hit. "My fault," Gonzalez said when asked about the play, "I should have gone out there and exploded right off the mound and got that ball. Lost it a little bit in the stands, but it's no excuse. I think he's just quick, you can't take your eye off of him for a second, can't slow down, so when I took one less step than he did he beat me there, so that's just speed, good speed right there."
It was a particularly painful play for Nats' skipper Davey Johnson to watch, because he had someone yelling in his ear. "My ears are deaf from [Pitching Coach Steve] McCatty yelling, 'Get over!'" The loss ended a streak of five-straight wins for the Nationals' left-hander, who was unbeaten in the month of May. His 2.31 ERA is still the league's 4th lowest, however, and his 1.98 FIP is still baseball's best. Gonzalez still has the second-highest K/9 league-wide and the highest K/9 in the NL with 11.40 K/9 in 11 starts and 66.1 IP and he's still the second-most valuable starter in the league so far this season at 2.5 fWAR behind only Detroit Tigers' right-hander Justin Verlander's 2.7 fWAR. "But, it was one of those days for Gio," Davey Johnson concluded, "Sometimes you have them, but it was the first as far as I'm concerned. He's had very few."