In his first major league start since May 17th, Gio Gonzalez labored through five innings of work, giving up five hits, three walks and four runs, all earned, and all in a long fourth inning on another humid night in the nation's capital.
At the end of that 35-pitch frame, which started with Gonzalez walking Jose Altuve in a foul-ball-filled 11-pitch at bat that began with Gonzalez up 1-2, the Washington Nationals' starter was up to 77 pitches and he was due up second, having hit a batter, surrendered two singles, one an RBI hit, an RBI double and a sac fly RBI, in that order, in an inning that turned a 2-0 lead into a two-run deficit in the second game of two with the visiting Houston Astros in Nationals Park.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams sent Gonzalez out for the fifth though, in the 28-year-old left-hander's first start back from a DL stint for shoulder inflammation that was the first trip to the Disabled List in his seven-year major league career.
Gonzalez said after the game that in spite of his struggles on the mound, the decision to send him back out for one more inning helped boost his confidence after just under a month out of the Nationals' rotation.
"What I'm looking at now is that Matt Williams let me go out there for the fifth," Gonzalez told reporters.
"It just showed that I've just got to break through one of those innings. After that I was trying to find my groove. I was building my confidence after that and I hit some bumpy roads and learn how to adjust from there. That's what makes a good pitcher, is learning how to keep your team in the game and making the adjustments as you go along."
Gonzalez pitched around a leadoff single in a scoreless 16-pitch fifth to end his outing after 93 pitches, 61 of them strikes.
"I credit our pitching coach Steve McCatty and Matt Williams for letting me go out there and build my confidence back up there and letting me go out there and pitch," he said.
"Again, that fifth inning made me feel confident again. Gave me that boost of confidence that I needed."
More important than the results, in what ended up a 6-5 comeback win for the Nats, was the fact that Gonzalez got through the outing without any issues with his left shoulder.
"I'm very confident," he told a reporter who asked if the injury concerns were behind him.
"I'm ready to go, keep pitching. I've got to keep moving forward. I'm happy to be with this rotation that's going to constantly keep me moving forward and positive, and I can't give all the credit to the pitching, I've got to give some to the hitting. Six runs, coming back like that. I tip my cap to these guys. They kept me in the game and they worked their tails off to get me out of that jam."
Williams was watching closely and satisfied with an outing Gonzalez himself said "not my strongest outing."
"He was okay," the Nationals' manager said. "I think he felt fine, which is the most important thing. He wanted to go out for one more inning, but we couldn't let him do that. So I think overall his health is good. He got into one tough inning, but other than that he pitched pretty good. The walk and hit batsmen hurt him, but other than that he was okay."
Asked if the lack of command was a result of some rust, Williams said, "I"m sure it is. He tried to go in on [George] Springer and hit him. Found his curveball a little bit better late, but command was an issue, but I think for the first time out of the DL it was okay."
"Felt like it was not my strongest outing," Gonzalez said. "But it was definitely a step to the right direction. I'm back off the DL, which is a great sign. The first three innings was trying to get the arm on top, and then the fourth inning, got ahead of the hitters, but I couldn't put them away. So, walking a guy and hitting a guy definitely will start something, but it's something to learn from. Dust the cobwebs off a little bit and get back at it. It's definitely a work in progress."
Gonzalez wouldn't blame inconsistent mechanics after the time off for his struggles though.
"There should be no excuses," he insisted.
"You've still got to out there, execute your pitches, do your job and you want to keep up with this rotation. It's a great rotation. You don't want to be the guy left out. But I just see a work in progress and stuff moving forward. So I can't be negative about the whole game. I've got to look at some of the positives that happened."
Like Williams letting him hit in the fourth before sending him back out for the fifth.
As for what he needs to improve next time out?
"I think what it is, is just finishing what I started," Gonzalez said. "Getting ahead of the guys, making sure to put them away early. Can't fall behind on guys, especially when you've got them in 1-2 counts, 0-2, and giving them a chance to come back. Hitting a guy and walking a guy ahead in the count, it's something that needs to stop. And as a professional pitcher as I like to look at myself, I've got to do better at that."