Through four starts this season, 2012 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez was (1-1) with a 5.85 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 11 walks and 20 Ks in 20.0 IP. Going into his fifth start of the year tonight, against Cincinnati in Nationals Park, Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson was asked what his left-hander needed to do to be successful against the Reds. "Pound that strike zone," Johnson said, "Keep the ball down. Go after them. That's what he does real well. It's kind of, maybe guys are trying to just be too good, trying to put too much on the pitches, trying to be too fine."
Gonzalez hasn't been pounding the strike zone early this year, at least not as much as he has in the past few seasons. His 39% Zone% (the percentage of pitches in the strike zone) is down from 42.8% in 2011 and 42.7% last year to 39.6% so far this year, and batters aren't chasing his pitches out of the zone thus far in 2013, with Gonzalez's O-Swing% (the number of pitches batters swing at outside of the zone) down from 29.6% last year to 25.9% so far.
In the nation's capital tonight, against a Reds team that had won four of their last five and nine of their last eleven, the Nats' starter got off to a good start with an 18-pitch, 1-2-3 first and he held Cincinnati's batters hitless through 3.2 IP before a Joey Votto solo blast got the Reds on the board, while pounding the strike zone early with 49 of his first 67 pitches strikes. Gonzalez ended up going eight innings on 112 pitches, 78 of them strikes, retiring 24 of the 27 batters he faced in an 8-1 win over the Reds.
Here's How It Happened:
Gio Gonzalez got two groundouts and a swinging K by Cincinnati slugger Joey Votto to end an 18-pitch, 1-2-3 first vs the Reds. Cincy starter Bronson Arroyo walked Bryce Harper with two down in the home-half of the first, bringing today's cleanup man, Jayson Werth, to the plate, but a fly to left-center ended a 17-pitch frame with it 0-0 after one in Washington. Reds' third baseman Todd Frazier fouled off six two-strike pitches before he K'd chasing a 1-2 curve for the final out of a 15-pitch second by Gonzalez. 33 overall for the Nats' lefty through two.
Adam LaRoche K'd looking at a 1-2 sinker for the first out of the Nats' second, but Ian Desmond collected the first hit of the night for either team when he sent a low liner by third on a first-pitch change from Arroyo. Danny Espinosa followed with an RBI double to right field and off the base of the out-of-town scoreboard that brought Desmond around to make it 1-0 Nationals. A single to center by Kurt Suzuki allowed Gio Gonzalez to bunt both runners over and an infield single by Denard Span scored Espinosa from third to make it 2-0 Nationals after two in the nation's capital.
A 93 mph 1-2 heater up high got by Chris Heisey for the first out of the third and the seventh batter in a row retired by Gio Gonzalez to start the game. Devin Mesoraco took a 2-2 fastball inside for out no.2 and K no.4 for Gonzalez and a grounder back to the mound by Arroyo ended the Nationals' starter's third hitless frame. 48 pitches overall after a 15-pitch inning. 9 up, 9 down. Two pitches into the Nats' third, Gonzalez had a three-run lead to work with after Bryce Harper hit a 420-ish ft home run to center on an 0-1 pitch from Arroyo that landed halfway up the batter's eye grass. 3-0 Nationals. A single by Jayson Werth followed in the next at bat, and what looked like a double play grounder off Adam LaRoche's went the Nats' way when the throw to second by Joey Votto hit Werth in the back and bounced into center. E3, second and third with no outs. A groundout to second by Desmond advanced both runners, with Werth scoring to make it 4-0 Nats and the two-run home run to right by Danny Espinosa that followed made it a 6-0 game after three in D.C.
• Harper's Solo Blast:
Shin-Soo Choo's groundout to second in the top of the fourth made it 10-straight Reds retired by Gio Gonzalez to start the game. Zack Cozart's weak roller to second made it 11 for 11, but Joey Votto ended any hope of something historical with an opposite field blast that just cleared the left field fence, falling over the Nationals Dream Foundation logo on the outfield wall for a solo home run that made it 6-1 Nationals. A grounder to short ended the Reds' fourth. Grounder. Desmond. Out. And 12 for 13 set down by Gonzalez, who was up to 67 pitches overall after a 19-pitch frame. Bryce Harper was 2 for 2 on the night after he ripped a line drive double to left with two down in the Nats' fourth, but he was stranded at second after his fifth two-base hit of the year. 6-1 Nats after four.
Jay Bruce K'd looking in the first at bat of the fifth to make it 13 of 14 set down by Gio Gonzalez and 5 Ks in 4.1 IP. A fly to left and a pop to short right followed in an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 frame that had the Nationals' left-hander at 75 overall after 5.0 IP. 15 of 16 set down. Bronson Arroyo got three weak grounders from Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa in a quick bottom of the fifth. Devin Mesoraco took the first walk of the night from Gio Gonzalez in the first at bat of the sixth, but Bronson Arroyo popped up a bunt attempt/really gave away an out and back-to-back grounders to third allowed Steve Lombardozzi to get consecutive forces at second to end a 12-pitch frame that had Gonzalez at 87 overall after 6.0.
Denard Span singled with two down in the Nats' sixth, then stole second and advanced on a throwing error before Steve Lombardozzi flew to center to end the frame. Still 6-1 Nats.
A groundout to second by Joey Votto, a pop to first by Brandon Phillips and a swinging K by Jay Bruce made it 21 of 23 set down by Gio Gonzalez and the quick, 12-pitch frame had the Nationals' lefty 99 overall after 7.0 innings vs the #Reds. Reds' right-hander J.J. Hoover retired the Nationals in order in the bottom of the seventh and there was no one warming in the pen, so Gio Gonzalez went back out to the mound for the top of the eighth. After two flies to left by Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey, Gonzalez walked Devin Mesoraco, issuing his second free pass of the night, but he threw a 93 mph 0-2 four-seamer by Xavier Paul for out no.3 of the eighth and his seventh K in 8.0 IP. The 13-pitch frame had him 112 overall after eight.
Ian Desmond singled to center to start the Nats' eighth, leaving him 2 for 4 tonight, but he was picked off first by the Reds' catcher for the first out of the frame. One out later, Kurt Suzuki worked a walk out of Reds' reliever Logan Ondrusek and Roger Bernadina singled for his first hit of the year before they both scored on a two-run triple to center by Denard Span. 8-1 Nationals.
Gio Gonzalez's line: 8.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 112 P, 78 S, 9/6 GO/FO
Rafael Soriano came out for the ninth and walked the first batter he faced, Shin-Soo Choo, but Zack Cozart grounded into a 4-6-3 for the first two outs of the inning and Joey Votto grounded to second to end the game. 8-1 Nats. Ballgame.
Nationals win, 8-1 final.
Nationals now 11-11.