Gio Gonzalez told reporters after a sub-par outing this past week in Atlanta, that it had been, "... just one of those games you just can't explain." He threw 96 pitches in four innings against the Braves in Turner Field, walking five and striking out nine while giving up seven hits and five earned runs. It looked like Gonzalez's seventh start of the year this afternoon in Pittsburgh's PNC Park might have been another one of those inexplicable outings in the first inning.
Pirates' leadoff man Starling Marte hit the first pitch Gio Gonzalez threw out to left field and into the second deck. 1-0. Two pitches later, Bucs' infielder Jordy Mercer doubled to center field. A throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman and a walk followed and the bases were loaded with no one out. The Nats' 27-year-old lefty struck the next two Pirates' batters out and got a groundout from the third to escape the first having only allowed the one run on Marte's home run.
Following the rough opening inning, Gonzalez returned to the dugout and spoke to his manager. "He came in," Johnson told reporters after the win, "He said, 'Well, I was going after them, but they were hitting it.' But he hung in there real good. He pitched a good ballgame. He used his changeup. He didn't have much command on his curve ball, but he threw some good fastballs. Kept the ball down after the first inning and he threw some good changeups. That was outstanding."
After loading the bases in the first inning, Gonzalez retired 15 of the next 17 batters he faced, surrendering only a Wandy Rodriguez single in the second and a walk to Russell Martin in the third and holding the Pirates off the board from the second through the fifth. In the sixth inning, however, Gaby Sanchez singled on a 1-2 heater and scored when Martin doubled to center field on an 0-1 fastball in the next at bat. That run got the Pirates within one, down 3-2 after Danny Espinosa's two-run home run in the fourth had broken a 1-1 tie.
"Danny hadn't been swinging the bat as well from the right side this year like he did last year," Johnson said, "But he had great at bats today. I was really pleased with his approach today. And the ball he got, two-strike curve ball, he didn't try to crush it. He just met it and of course he's so strong it went a long way."
The one run lead held up through seven and Tyler Moore's three-run home run in the eighth gave the Nationals some breathing room. The Nats took the series finale in PNC 6-2 to improve to 17-15 on the season. "I was happy to see Tyler Moore," Johnson said, "He's had some situations to drive in some runs and he's a run producer... and he's [been] a little out of whack. But made a good pass at that breaking ball and hit it nine miles." It was Moore's first home run of the season. In his three previous at bats this afternoon, the right-handed hitting outfielder had gone 0 for 3 with three backwards Ks.
Tyler Moore's big home run blew it open, but it was Gio Gonzalez's ability to work out of trouble and keep the Nats in the game after a rocky start that really impressed Davey Johnson. "Gio's not been consistent as he was last year," the Nats' skipper admitted, but he was happy with Gonzalez's effort today. "He hasn't been hitting his spots. He hasn't been getting his pitches over. So it was good to see him bounce back against a good-hitting ballclub in this ballpark and he kept us in there for six good innings." The Nationals have the day off on Monday and they start a two-game series with the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night.