"It was just one of those days," Davey Johnson said after 26-year-old left-hander Gio Gonzalez had given up six hits three walks and six runs in just 3.1 IP last Thursday afternoon against the New York Mets. "He didn't have too much," Johnson explained, "Didn't have much command. A lot of things weren't going for him. Just one of those days. It's one out of a hundred that he's been outstanding." A two-run home run by David Wright put New York up early. An Ike Davis solo shot in the second made it 3-1 and gave the Mets their two-run lead back after Ryan Zimmerman had homered in the bottom of the first to make it a 2-1 game. Gonzalez was up to 33 pitches after two innings.
The Nats' lefty gave up three hits, two walks and two runs in a 29-pitch third. Gonzalez came back out for the fourth inning and walked the Mets' eight-hole hitter Josh Thole, and after the opposing pitcher, R.A. Dickey, had bunted his catcher over, the Nationals' manager made the decision to lift his starter after just 3.1 IP. Gonzalez's 19th start of the season was his shortest this season. The former Oakland A's starter lasted just 3.2 IP on Opening Day in his Nationals' debut. "He just didn't [have] command," Davey Johnson said, "Command is the big key for him and it was one of those days I didn't think he had his best stuff either."
"Talking to [Nats' catcher Jesus Flores] when I was out there," Johnson recounted, "He said, 'No, he's missing,' and wasn't real sharp. Not like usual. Maybe it's this nice cool air in D.C.," Johnson joked. He also told reporters, "Obviously if I see a guy who's having trouble I'm not going to let him stay out there just to go save my bullpen. I'm going to save him." Though the manager saw it as saving Gonzalez from further damage in a bad outing, his pitcher still wasn't thrilled to see the manager heading out to the mound.
"He gave me that evil stare like, 'What am I doing out there?'" Johnson said.
The 69-year-old, second-year Nationals' manager explained that he didn't see any point in leaving Gonzalez out there. "It's more about not having him throw 20-30 more pitches in a losing cause. What's the use?"
From April through May, Gonzalez was (7-1) with a 2.04 ERA, 25 walks (3.69 BB/9), 79 K's (11.66 K/9) and one home run allowed in 10 starts and 61.0 IP. In nine starts in June and July the Nats' no.2 is (5-4) with a 4.93 ERA, 20 walks (3.65 BB/9) and 50 K's (9.12 K/9) in 49.1 IP, in which he's surrendered five home runs. Opposing hitters had a .156/.246/.482 line against Gonzalez with a .239 BABIP over the first 10 starts. Over the last nine starts, that's up to .255/.324/.396 with a .319 BABIP against the Nats' All-Star.
The one-time White Sox' draft pick, who was dealt back and forth between Chicago and Philadelphia and then eventually traded to Oakland before the deal this winter that brought him to D.C., has given up a over a run more (3.28 ERA to 4.47) in the second half of the season over the course of his career, but in the only two full seasons he played with the A's he had a better second half (8-3, 2.59 ERA to 7-6, 3.79) than he did in the first in 2010 and a better first half (8-6, 2.47 ERA) than second half (8-6, 3.94 ERA) in 2011.
Gonzalez chalked his recent struggles up as a simple rough stretch when he talked to reporters after the loss to New York last week, telling the Washington Times' Amanda Comak that he'd just left the ball up in the zone against a hard-hitting team. The Nationals' left-hander makes his third career start against the Mets tonight. It will be his second career appearance in Citi Field, where he held the Mets to one run on four hits in a 2011 start for the A's.