Apparently the decision on the part of Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty to send Gio Gonzalez out for an extra inning of work in his first start off the DL back on June 18th was a good one.
Gonzalez needed 35 pitches to get through a rough fourth that night in Nationals Park in an inning in which he gave up three hits, a walk and four runs, but in spite of the fact that he was up to 77 pitches in his first start off the DL for shoulder inflammation, he was sent back out.
"That fifth inning made me feel confident again," Gonzalez told reporters after completing a 16-pitch fifth that left him at 93 pitches overall on the night. "Gave me that boost of confidence that I needed."
That final scoreless inning of work was the first of twenty-two straight scoreless innings the 28-year-old left-hander has thrown since in back-to-back-to-back starts against the Milwaukee Brewers (six scoreless) and Chicago Cubs, against whom he threw seven scoreless in Wrigley Field last week and then eight more today.
This afternoon in the nation's capital, Gonzalez gave up just four hits and a walk, striking out seven and inducing 10 ground ball outs from the 28 batters he faced in the Nationals' 13-0 win over the Cubs.
Gonzalez used his changeup effectively today, mixed in his curve and located his fastball against an overmatched Cubs' lineup.
Williams was asked after the game if Gonzalez was doing something different with the changeup that led to hitters being powerless against it in his last few outings.
"I don't see anything different," he said. "I think his curveball has helped too. I mean, his curveball helps that pitch. It certainly helps his fastball. Regardless of velocity.
"Today he didn't have the velocity that he did in Chicago, but nonetheless, when you can throw your breaking stuff for strikes, then it makes your fastball look better, of course, and he's relied on it."
Getting comfortable with his offspeed pitches again as he works his way back from the DL stint has made a big difference according to Williams.
"He's had a really good feel the last three starts with both of them," the Nats' skipper said. "And he's relied on them, so if he gets in a jam he can throw either one of those. He can use either one of them as a strikeout pitch which we saw today. It allows him, I think, to get earlier outs. His pitch count was pretty high the first couple of innings, but then he settled in really nice and got through the eighth, which is a good sign for him, at [109 pitches], that's pretty good."
Gonzalez wanted to go back out for another inning of work, but in his fourth start back after a month on the DL, and with a 13-run lead, Williams decided to go to his pen.
"He wanted to go out for the ninth," Williams said. "I didn't want to push him at  pitches, but the fact that he can go  pitches and use all of his pitches is a great sign.
"He's reported no problems with his shoulder. It took him a little while to get loose for the last inning because it was a long inning. That's a concern. Especially with a pitcher that's got a lot of pitches, sending him back out. But, he feels good. All of his pitches are working for him, so that's very positive."
In spite of his success in recent outings, the first-year manager explained that with all the time he spent on the DL, Gonzalez is still essentially building back up right now.
"It's a continual process," he said. "You miss that amount of time, it's a process to make sure. So he's got to work hard between this start and the next one because we've pushed his pitch count now and so we don't want him to get cranky again, so he's really got to work hard the next four days, five days, to make sure he's ready to go again."
When he takes the mound the next time he'll be looking to add to the longest scoreless inning streak by any of the Nationals' starters this season.