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Can Nationals' starter Gio Gonzalez avoid early inning issues in finale with Phillies

Washington Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez has avoided putting the Nats in a hole early in his last three starts. Can he avoid it again this afternoon and keep the Nationals from having to come back again in the series finale in CBP?

Chris Gardner

"We've talked about it," Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams assured reporters last week after the Nats once again fell behind early in a game during the last homestand.

"Nothing's changed," he said. "From a pitching perspective warming up in the bullpen hasn't changed over the last three years. And there's no reason to make a drastic change. It's a question of, tonight anyway, ball's being up in the strike zone and you make mistakes at the big league level, you're going to pay for it."

"From a pitching perspective warming up in the bullpen hasn't changed over the last three years. And there's no reason to make a drastic change." - Matt Williams last week on the Nationals' early inning issues

Williams found himself discussing the way his pitchers are preparing for starts again last night after Tanner Roark surrendered a first-inning home run by Philadelphia Phillies' slugger Ryan Howard that put the Nationals in a 3-0 hole they were unable to climb out of in their 7-2 loss in Citizens Bank Park.

As's Mark Zuckerman noted and Williams himself later mentioned, it was the eighth time in thirty games the Nationals have given up "at least three runs" in the first inning and the three Roark surrendered were the 29th, 30th and 31st runs the Nats' starters have given up in first innings this season.

"We've gone over the whole thing of the amount of pitches they're throwing in the bullpen prior to the game," Williams reiterated. "The preparation is all the same. It's just the way it's been sometimes. Hopefully that's out of our system, we can go on from here."

"We've gone over the whole thing of the amount of pitches they're throwing in the bullpen prior to the game. The preparation is all the same." - Matt Williams after loss to Phillies on Saturday night

Tanner Roark was coming off a complete game shutout of the San Diego Padres when he took the mound last night in Philadelphia. From the start, however, he was in trouble. Jimmy Rollins singled with one down in the first and Chase Utley walked to put two on in front of Ryan Howard, who hit an 0-1 fastball out to left-center to make it 3-0 early in the second game of three in CBP.

"Everything was flat today," Williams told reporters in assessing Roark's outing after the game. "Sinker wasn't sinking. Breaking ball was up in the zone. But other than that... Ryan hit a pretty decent pitch out of the ballpark away. He's got good power that way. And that was the three in the first inning. So, it happens."

The Nationals' skipper has stressed recently that in spite of the fact that the Nationals have nine comeback wins early this season, it's not something you want to be doing as often as they have because it tends to be draining over the long run.

"Everything was flat today. Sinker wasn't sinking. Breaking ball was up in the zone." - Matt Williams on Tanner Roark vs the Phillies

"Of course we don't want to have to come from behind, that's for sure," he said last week. "We've done it, but it's not ideal by any stretch so we just have to do a better job of getting back to the dugout and [letting] our offense go to work. Over the course of multiple games or a whole season, it's very difficult to come back that many times and it wears on you a little bit. So, we've got to do a better job of getting out of the first or the second and letting our offense go to work a little bit."

With A.J. Burnett sharp on the mound last night, the Nationals couldn't get back in the game.

Adam LaRoche homered off the Phillies' right-hander in the sixth and Zach Walters hit a late blast off reliever Mario Hollands for the Nats' second run, but that was as close as they would get.

"Tonight we couldn't come back," Williams said. "They added on too. So, it's perplexing, but we've been down, I think it's eight or nine games [by] three or more after the first and come back in a lot of them, but over the course of a season you're not going to be able to come back as much as you want to."

"You look at Tanner," Williams said. "Last time out he was great. This time not so much. So, that's the ebbs and flows of the game and pitching. Not much we can do about it now. Look forward to his next one."

Before they get to Roark's next one, the Nationals play the Phillies one more time this afternoon with Gio Gonzalez on the mound in the series finale.

The Nats' left-hander hasn't allowed a first-inning run since he gave up three to the Braves in his April 13th starts in Atlanta. Can Gonzalez make it four starts in a row without any early runs allowed?