After Gio Gonzalez's 30-pitch first inning it looked like it might be a long night for the Washington Nationals' bullpen, but the Nats' left-handed starter held the San Diego Padres to one run on two hits before settling down and getting out of the opening frame with a 3-2 change to Kyle Blanks that got the oversized outfielder swinging. It took Gonzalez 20 pitches to strike out the side in the second after he'd given up a leadoff single and a double that put runners on second and third with no outs. Meanwhile, Padres' starter Andrew Cashner, who started the game with a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 first, went the other way as the Nationals' hitters settled in and got patient in the second, making the 26-year-old right-hander throw 46 pitches as the Nats batted around and scored five runs in the bottom of the inning.
Gio Gonzalez was up to 50 pitches when he took the mound in the third. He fell behind Chase Headley and gave up a solo home run to left on a 2-1 fastball, but completed a relatively quick, 15-pitch frame, then proceeded to throw three scoreless on 34 pitches to somehow make it into the seventh. After the rough start, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said he was just hoping Gonzalez could give him five innings.
"Gio hung it together," Johnson said, "but the first couple innings were... I was hoping I could get five out of him after the first couple. But he pitched good and beared down... threw a lot of pitches early though."
"The way it started, it didn't look good at the beginning," Gonzalez admitted in his post game interview with reporters. "So when you finish off with 6 2/3, giving your team a change to win and your bullpen some rest, using up only a couple guys, that's always a good thing. That's a plus."
"It goes to command on his fastball," Davey Johnson responded when asked about Gonzalez's early inning issues. Through 18 starts this season, Gonzalez has a 5.50 ERA in the first inning, with more walks (and a .360 OBP for opposing hitters) in the opening frames than in any others. "When he has command on his fastball, goes right after them and pitches out front, it sets the tone for the whole game. But he's behind in counts, having to throw it right down the middle, he can get hurt. It's all the command and after he threw 50 pitches I guess, then he started getting ahead. But it was a good win."
The Nationals scored five runs in the second to go ahead 5-1, then responded to Headley's home run in the second with a run on a Wilson Ramos' single in the bottom of the inning and two more in the fourth on an RBI single by Adam LaRoche and an RBI groundout by Jayson Werth. In two games since Werth moved to the sixth spot in the order, the 34-year-old outfielder is 6 for 7 with three runs scored and two driven in. Ian Desmond, who swapped places with Werth and is now batting second, is 4 for 8 and is in the midst of a six-game hitting streak over which he's 9 for 23 with three doubles and a home run. Though he said he made the move because he had do "something," Davey Johnson seems happy with the early returns.
"I like the energy Desmond brings down there and Jayson seems to relish where he's hitting too," the Nats' 70-year-old manager told reporters. Werth was patient at the top of the order, and saw a lot of pitches, which helped teammates see what the opposing starter had to offer, but Johnson said he also likes being in a position to drive in runs. "I think he also likes that fact that, five or six, generally you're going to have a lot of guys on, and he's more aggressive when he's in that spot and I like that about him."
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, of course, did say this winter that ideally, though he's hit where he was needed without complaint the last few seasons, Werth is better suited to a middle of the lineup spot. "I think his skill set profiles as a middle-of-the-lineup type of hitter," Rizzo said in an MLB Network Radio interview, "You're a much better team when you have a good leadoff man and Jayson driving in runs in the five-hole or six-hole or wherever it might be for the team."
Davey Johnson said he likes the results from the new-look lineup so far. "I like the way the lineup is swinging the bat, really," he told reporters after the Nats' second straight 8-5 win. "Good at bats, quality at bats. And that's what I've been looking for. That takes pressure of everybody in the lineup. They feel like they can stay within themselves and not try to do too much."