In his last two starts, Washington Nationals' left-hander Gio Gonzalez has allowed 16 hits, five walks and 12 ER in 7 1/3 IP. Last time out, Gonzalez was done after just 4 1/3 IP against the Oakland A's on the road in the O.co Coliseum, in which he surrendered nine hits, three walks and seven runs, six of them on two three-run home runs by Athletics' catcher and former Nats' draft pick Derek Norris. Gonzalez threw 88 pitches in that start, 48 of them for strikes.
"He just missed," Nats' skipper Matt Williams explained after the 9-1 loss to the A's last Sunday.
"He didn't have a breaking ball early," Williams said. "Missed with his fastball and they made him pay for it, so that's kind of the story of today."
It wasn't much better for Gonzalez against the New York Mets today in Nationals Park.
Facing a team he'd beaten in six straight starts before this afternoon's outing, Gonzalez gave up three runs in the first and five runs total in three innings of work in which he threw 84 pitches, 48 of them strikes.
Williams summed today's outing up adequately with one word.
"Inconsistent," the first-year manager said. "Just way too many pitches missing the zone. Not throwing it where he wanted to. He was just very inconsistent and getting behind. If you get behind at this level, you're going to pay for it."
Asked if he or his staff could explain Gonzalez's struggles, Williams admitted that he wasn't sure what was wrong.
"Velocity is good," he said. "Everything is good. His control issues earlier have really put him behind the eight-ball. We've spoken about it before, it's not lack of doing anything differently than he's done in the past. He's just not been able to control the fastball, especially early on. Everything is up and like I said, he was missing and if you get behind you're going to pay."
Back to back one-out singles and a walk loaded the bases in the first inning today, and Mets' rookie Eric Campbell got hold of an 0-2 fastball Gonzalez left up and lined it to center for a two-run single. Juan Lagares hit an opposite field single to right in the next at bat and it was 3-0 Mets before the second out of the inning was recorded.
Gonzalez ended up throwing 37 pitches in the first.
In the top of the third, the Nats' lefty gave up a single by Campbell and a two-run home run by Lagares, who hit a 92 mph 3-2 fastball out to center field to make it 5-0 Mets.
"Just inconsistent," Williams reiterated later in his post game press conference. "All over the place really today."
"Why?" was the obvious question.
"I can't put a finger on that because I don't know," Williams said. "There's no difference in velocity. He's running it in there at 94 mph, it doesn't feel like that. He had a little tight shoulder earlier this year, but has continued to pitch and tells us that he feels good. I don't know."
Gonzalez was lifted early from a start against the Los Angeles Angels last month when he experienced tightness in his shoulder, but he made his next turn in the rotation and two more after that. The two before his rough outing in Oakland were uneventful starts in which he looked like himself, but the last two have been concerning enough that reporters wondered if the shoulder might still be an issue?
"It feels good," Williams said. "We ask him and he says he feels fine. It's just a question of being inconsistent. His release point is a little bit all-over-the-place, but that's kind of typical of him. Sometimes it gets there. And he tends to zone it in as he gets through the game, but the last two that hasn't been the case. It's been falling behind and coming to the hitters and they've been whacking it. So, have to do a little bit better job of zoning in early if that's the case."
Williams was asked once again this afternoon if the early-inning struggles by the Nationals' starters could in any way be tied to their pregame routines, and once again, as he has previously, the manager said he and his coaches have looked at it and nothing is different from what they've been doing for the last few years.
"We've gone back three years and looked at how many pitches, it's been logged, how many pitches they throw in the bullpen prior to games," he said. "It has not changed. So, to put a finger on it... I can't. Within two or three pitches, they've all been the same. Even Gio in his 21-game year did the same things, so there's nothing to put your finger on that would say, 'Oh, this is why.' It's just the way it's been. A lot of them we've come back. Today we couldn't, so... go get them tomorrow."
Gonzalez, according to a "person familiar with the situation" who spoke to the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, will, "...undergo precautionary tests on his arm Sunday," so the Nationals can make sure it's nothing physically wrong with their 28-year-old starter.