In order for Gio Gonzalez to be successful, Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters before tonight's series opener with the Cincinnati Reds, the left-hander would have to, "Pound that strike zone, keep the ball down," and really, "go after them," in a way that the Nats' 28-year-old starter hadn't in his last few starts. After Gonzalez threw 8.0 innings against the Reds on 112 pitches, allowing just one hit and one run in an 8-1 win, Johnson said Gonzalez did exactly what he needed to do.
"Gio was just outstanding," the Nationals' manager said, "And probably any time other than this, after coming off a couple bad outings, I'd let him finish that ballgame, but I think he was at over 110 pitches and I didn't want to do it, but outstanding effort, great job." And just what the Nats needed after they'd lost six straight at home and four-in-a-row overall. The Nationals, who'd struggled to put up runs, scored two in the second on an RBI double by Danny Espinosa and an RBI single by Denard Span and added four in the third on a solo blast by Bryce Harper, a run-scoring groundout by Ian Desmond and a two-run blast by Espinosa, who'd been struggling to get going at the plate before tonight's 2 for 4 game.
The Nats' skipper said that more than the run support he received, it was what Gonzalez himself was doing that made the difference.
"He started the game a lot better," Johnson said, "I mean, he started right after them and in the previous two games he was missing early. He was mixing [in] his curve ball, throwing some good curve ball for strikes," and apparently getting good advice from his catcher, Kurt Suzuki. As Johnson explained, after Reds' third baseman Todd Frazier fouled off six two-strike pitches in the second, Suzuki went out to the mound to have a chat with Gonzalez.
"I think Suzuki went out there and said, 'Bounce it in front of home plate and he'll miss it,' but [Gonzalez bounced] it behind, after it got by home plate," and Frazier K'd swinging to end the second. "It was just a fun game, and Gio did a heck of a job," Johnson said, "I love seeing it. He really pounded the zone."
"He's got great stuff," the Nationals' manager explained when asked what the difference was for his pitcher tonight. "If you try to get too fine with it -- his ball moves a heck of a lot and it's hard to center on, but it's a lot easier to center on if you see a whole bunch of pitches every at bat. And by going right after them, he had 112 pitches through eight innings. He's about had that in five [innings] the last couple starts. And also he was using his curve ball, I think today he didn't hardly throw any changeups. But that's the kind of pitcher he is and that's what [Stephen Strasburg] did right after the first inning in his last start. Started going after them and you get much more pitch efficient and you can go much longer in the ballgame."
"But the main thing," Johnson said, "Hitters, when they see less pitches, it's harder to center on the ball."
Gonzalez's Line: (W, 2-1), 8.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 112 P, 78 S, 9/6 GO/FO.