SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 13: Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning at AT&T Park on August 13, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Talk of Washington's offensive output and Nationals' outfielder Jayson Werth's ankle dominated the post game press conference with Davey Johnson Monday night, overshadowing the work Gio Gonzalez did on the mound against the San Francisco Giants that night in his 24th start of 2012. Gonzalez held what was then the NL West's first place team to two runs on six hits in 6.2 IP. "Great job by Gio," the Nats' manager said, "He came back and threw a great game. He's swinging too hard, that's the only thing I'm worried about. He was trying to hit another home run with every swing. But he pitched a great game and it was fun watching the offense. We beat up on a pretty good pitcher." It was the second strong outing for Gonzalez, who went 9.0 innings for the second complete game of his major league career and contributed a HR, his first, in a win over the Astros in Minute Maid Park in his twenty-third start.
Gio earned the curly-W in the Nats' 14-2 win Monday, collecting his 15th win this year (which has him tied with the Mets' R.A. Dickey and the Reds' Johnny Cueto for the most wins by a pitcher in the National League). Gonzalez didn't win his 15th game of the year for the A's in 2011 until his next-to-last start of the season on September 23rd. Gonzalez beat the LA Angels for no.15 with Oakland last year, winning his third of four-straight to end the year. In his last eight outings with Oakland, Gonzalez was (7-1) with a 2.46 ERA in 54.2 IP in which he walked 19 (3.13 BB/9) and K'd 51 (8.40 K/9). Gio ended the year in 2010, his only other full season in the majors, by going (5-1) in his last eight starts with a 2.70 ERA, 22 walks (4.24 BB/9) and 46 Ks (8.87 K/9) in his last 46.2 IP.
Jordan Zimmermann wasn't at his best in the second game of three in AT&T Tuesday night, as both he and his manager said after the game. Zimmermann held the Giants to two runs on eight hits, however, throwing 94 pitches in 5.2 IP, and surrendering the second of the two runs he allowed in the sixth, before he was lifted. The Nats' right-hander, working without his best stuff, kept the Nationals close in what was a 2-1 game through seven and a half innings. "Jordan threw the ball good," Davey Johnson told reporters, "I've seen him throw it better."
"I thought he started the game a little up," Johnson said, "Still pretty strong. He held them in there. We should have been able to score some runs, but the other guy pitched better. It's one of those deals."
The Nats' '07 2nd Round pick seemed to agree with his manager's assessment. "I didn't have my best stuff, that's for sure," Zimmermann said, "I missed on a quite a few pitches. I didn't make the quality pitch when I needed to. I like to at least go six or into the seventh, but they're a good hitting team and they battled pretty well tonight and I just didn't have the best stuff." Zimmermann's ERA on the year rose from 2.35 to 2.38 as a result of the two earned runs he gave up. That's still good for the second-lowest ERA in baseball and the lowest in the National League. On the year, Zimmermann's got a 3.26 FIP to go along with the 2.38 ERA, 27 walks (1.61 BB/9), (which is the fourth-lowest BB/9 in the NL) and 114 Ks (6.79 K/9).
In his last nine starts, Zimmermann's (5-1) with the Nationals 7-2 over that stretch and he's posted a 1.68 ERA over the last 53.2 IP on the mound, walking seven (1.17 BB/9) and striking out 49 (8.22 K/9) while holding opposing hitters to a .228/.261/.310 line. Zimmermann was heating up late last season too when he reached his innings limit on August 28th. "I loved him last year," Davey Johnson told reporters after Zimmermann's start in Houston last week, "And he was my best pitcher when we shut him down in September. No question about that. And he's picked up and even run it up a notch."
Stephen Strasburg helped the Nationals take the series in San Francisco on Wednesday, holding the Giants to two runs on four hits in 6.0 IP in what ended up a 6-4 win. The 24-year-old right-hander ended his 24th start of 2012 with a 2.91 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 42 walks (2.71 BB/9) and 173 Ks (11.17 K/9) in 139.1 IP. The K/9 are the NL's highest, the ERA the seventh-lowest, his FIP the NL's lowest (though Fangraphs still lists Greinke in the NL) and his 2.80 xFIP is the lowest as well. Strasburg struggled with his control early in his outing against the Giants, giving up two walks, two singles and two runs in a 27-pitch second that ended with the score tied at 2-2. Strasburg threw 50 pitches in the first two innings and 50 total over the last four scoreless to end his six innings of work at 100 pitches even. "Once I started throwing more strikes I was able to get more quick outs," Strasburg told reporters after the game.
As for the early wildness, the right-hander said, "I was making pitches, but I just wasn't getting ahead on them. So, it was a tough situation. I think the worst pitch was obviously throwing three changeups in a row to [Brandon] Crawford," who doubled in the only two runs the Giants scored on Strasburg. "That's not the way I want to pitch guys," Strasburg explained, "I felt good at the time and made a good pitch, but he saw it two times before and he put a good swing on it." Danny Espinosa hit a two-run home run to put the Nationals back on top 4-2 and Strasburg said after the game that he just told himself to, "... keep the team in the ballgame and every time we score try to put up a zero right after that."
Asked about how he avoids thinking about "what's coming" in terms of the innings limit he's approaching, Strasburg deflected the question, talking instead about how the Nats, "... need to finish strong and we need to keep playing hard," and remember to take it, "... one game at a time."
"We can't focus on the finish line when we've got forty-something games left," the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick said. When the topic of how the Giants' lineup was changed by the absence of Melky Cabrera, who was suspended for 50 games right before the start of the series finale in San Francisco, Strasburg told reporters, "They're going to find a way to overcome it and that's what good teams have to do." That's what the Nationals will have to do when Strasburg's shut down. That's why the Nationals signed Edwin Jackson this winter. Why Ross Detwiler's been groomed and worked into the rotation. Why John Lannan's still in the organization. Why they acquire Gio Gonzalez from the A's. The Nationals knew they'd need pitching at some point this season when Strasburg's shut down. Did they think they'd be competing for a playoff berth? Their manager did as he said repeatedly all winter and Spring.
Davey Johnson said much the same when a reporter asked the 69-year-old manager after Wednesday's game about eventually losing his ace. Strasburg, in his manager's opinion, seemed to be getting stronger as the game went on, and he said he probably could have come back out for the seventh, but, "There's again a case where I normally would go another inning, except we're going to hold his innings down."
Eventually, however, and before the season's over, before the post season starts if the Nats are able to make it, Strasburg will be shut down unless D.C. GM Mike Rizzo completely reverses course in the next few weeks, which he's shown no sign of doing. When asked how tough it is to accept that loss considering what they've done so far this season and where it seems they're headed, the ever-defiant Johnson snapped, "Let me tell you, a lot of guys have been shut down this year, through injury, we'll overcome it." That's what good teams have to do.