Washington Nationals' left-hander Gio Gonzalez made it through just 3 ⅔ IP last night. He started the series opener with the Philadelphia Phillies with three scoreless innings, but 30 pitches and nine batters into the fourth, the 28-year-old starter was lifted after having given up five hits, a walk and five earned runs.
Three of the five hits the Phillies connected on in the inning were grounders that found their way through the infield, with the one extra base hit a line drive to right by Grady Sizemore on a pitch low in the zone outside that the left-handed hitting outfielder went down for and drove to right-center.
It was the second outing of Gonzalez's last four in which he didn't make it out of the fourth inning.
Over that stretch, the 28-year-old southpaw is (0-3) with a 5.23 ERA and a .275/.348/.375 line against in 20 ⅔ innings pitched.
Gonzalez was coming off a strong outing on the road in Cincinnati which saw him give up four hits and one run in seven strong innings in a losing effort. Though the results last night were obviously not what he wanted, Gonzalez told reporters after the game that he felt fine on the mound.
"I felt good," he said. "Just some ground balls didn't go my way. They found the holes. I got the pitch I wanted. I got the result I wanted. But they just found their way through. Base hits. The fourth inning just got me."
Nats' skipper Matt Williams was at a loss to explain what went wrong.
"I don't know," Williams said. "He threw strikes, but he got behind a little bit. They took some good swings on him. Hit the fastball tonight. Just didn't have it. Not as good as the last time out."
Gonzalez said it was just a case of things not going the Nationals' way throughout the game.
"Unfortunately it was just that kind of night," he said. "Nothing was going our way and we just had to grind through it."
"Even the pitch I threw to Sizemore, I thought it was a good pitch down and away, he still got it, got some good wood on it. Just tip your cap. Sometimes it goes that way."
Gonzalez, as he does on occasion when things aren't going well, was demonstrative and talkative on the mound as things spiraled out of control in the fourth.
"He just does that," Williams said of Gonzalez's tendency to get into conversations with himself as he works out his frustration. "He talks to himself out there sometimes when his mechanics aren't right. But he's fine. There's no issue with his shoulder or anything like that. He's just off."
When Gonzalez did have a shoulder issue earlier this season, diagnosed as inflammation, which led to the first DL stint of his career, a few wild starts where his command wasn't there preceded the decision to get an MRI.
Though the Nationals' first-year manager reiterated this morning that nothing physical is wrong, he still wasn't quite sure what the problem was for Gonzalez.
"I'm not sure exactly what if anything it is," Williams told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Memolo and Todd Hollandsworth in his weekly appearance on the show "First Pitch" when asked about Gonzalez's struggles.
Matt Williams says Gio Gonzalez is healthy, but that he is "lacking command some times out there."— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) August 1, 2014
"I know that when he gets out there and he starts the game and he's able to land his curveball and land his changeup then he's really effective," Williams said.
"There have been some games where he's gone into the eighth inning with one run or less, but the other times it's a little bit all over the place and a little bit spraying the fastball and not getting that great location. So, it's kind of hit-and-miss right now for him. But when he gets out there and lands the curveball in the first inning and he's able to throw his changeup a little bit and keep those guys off-balance, then he tends to go deep in games for us. So I just think that's the key. He's healthy, his shoulder feels good, body feels good, he's just lacking command sometimes out there."
Since returning from his DL stint, Gonzalez is now (3-3) with the Nationals 5-3 in his last eight starts, over which he has a 3.09 ERA with 19 walks (3.66 BB/9), 47 Ks (9.06 K/9) and a .218/.301/.285 line against in 46 ⅔ IP.