5. Gio vs St. Louis: Last time out, against the AL East's Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park, Washington Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez gave up six hits, two walks and five runs, four earned in six innings of work, earning the "W" in what ended up a series-salvaging 10-5 win in the finale of the three-game set.
The Nats jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the third, and Gonzalez held the Sox to two runs through four.
Sox' left fielder Hanley Ramirez hit a hanging curve out to left for a two-run blast in the fifth, however, and Brock Holt hit an RBI ground-rule double in the sixth to get the Sox within three at 8-5.
Gonzalez was done for the day after a 24-pitch sixth that left him at 104 pitches overall.
"He's over a hundred [pitches]," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said after the game.
"We're not going to send him out for another one. The last inning there, struggling a little bit to find the zone. It's windy and the ball is slick and so he gutted through it for sure, but that's all he can do."
The win left Gonzalez (1-1) with a 5.11 ERA, a 4.16 FIP, six walks (4.38 BB/9) and 10 Ks (7.30 K/9) in 12 ⅓ IP so far this season, over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .239/.340/.435 line.
Gonzalez said he was thankful that the offense helped him out and took the pressure off as he tried to hold the Red Sox' hitters down.
"'Let’s not kid ourselves, the offense was amazing,'" Gonzalez told reporters, as quoted by NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman. "'A lot of runs. Guys helped a lot and it took a lot of pressure off out there.'"
Back in the nation's capital tonight, in the series-opener with St. Louis, Gonzalez started things off with a 20-pitch first in which he worked around a two-out walk to Matt Holliday, striking Cardinals' shortstop Jhonny Peralta out with a 1-2 bender to end the opening frame.
Cards' center fielder Jon Jay sent a 1-2 fastball through short for a one-out single in the top of the second. One out later, Kolten Wong hit a high-chopper over the mound that Gonzalez reached up for and deadened just enough that Ian Desmond had no play once he'd fielded it. An 0-2 fastball to Lance Lynn got the opposing pitcher swinging, however, and got Gonzalez through a 24-pitch frame. 44 total after two. 0-0.
Matt Holliday lined a first-pitch fastball to right for a two-out single in the third, extending his hit streak to 12 straight, but he was stranded at first base when Jhonny Peralta went down swinging over an 0-2 bender. 14-pitch third for Gonzalez, 58 overall.
The Nats' lefty issued a leadoff walk to Mark Reynolds in the fourth, but erased the runner on a chopper back to the mound off Jon Jay's bat. 1-6-3 DP. Yadier Molina doubled to center with two down, so Gonzalez walked Kolten Wong to get to Lance Lynn and got a grounder back to the mound to end a 16-pitch frame at 74 total.
Holliday was 2 for 2 with a walk after a two-out line drive single to center in the Cards' half of the fifth. Peralta hit a one-hop liner by a diving Ian Desmond at short for the second straight single, and Gonzalez walked Reynolds to load the bases with two down. Jon Jay stepped in with the bases juiced and grounded out to first to end a 23-pitch frame that left the Nats' lefty at 97 overall.
Gonzalez came back out for the sixth in spite of the high pitch total and gave up a leadoff line drive single to right by Yadier Molina and an infield single by Wong, but Lance Lynn bunted into a force at third for the first out of the frame and Matt Carpenter stepped in next with two on and one out and grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3.
10-pitch frame, 107 total for Gonzalez after six scoreless vs the Cardinals. Cards 0 for 5 w/ RISP vs Gonzalez, 10 LOB as a team after six.
• Gio Gonzalez's Line: 6.0 IP, 8 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 4 Ks, 107 P, 67 S, 10/1 GO/FO.
4. More Yunel: With all the health-related issues for the Washington Nationals early this season, you'd be forgiven for having thought the worst when Yunel Escobar appeared to suffer a groin injury running out a groundout in this past Friday's game against the Phillies in Nats Park.
After a few days off, however, (and an MRI, which revealed no damage), Escobar was cleared to return to action today, in time for the start of the Nationals' three-game set with the St. Louis Cardinals.
"He's good," Nationals' manager Matt Williams told reporters before today's game.
"He worked out pretty hard on Sunday, the second of his off days and then yesterday he felt good. Came in today, he's done grounders, he's run. We'll get him through BP make sure, but we don't anticipate any issues."
"I don't know if he'll go full-out tonight," Williams continued. "He'll probably be a little bit cautious on the basepaths, I would imagine. Other than that, he's good to go."
Williams said Escobar will be cautious, but he isn't nursing an issue.
"I don't think he has issues with it, but I don't think he wants to push it make something out of it either. I think he's perfectly capable of playing. He's confident about going out there."
Escobar has been solid so far after he was acquired from the Oakland A's this winter (just days after he was traded to the Athletics from Tampa Bay), putting up a .286/.362/.405 line in 11 games and 47 plate appearances for the Nats.
Tonight against the Cardinals, Escobar went 0 for 2 in his first two at bats, and with runners on the corners and one out in the sixth, the 32-year-old infielder... grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3. 0 for 3.
Escobar got one more at bat in the eighth with Jayson Werth on second and two down, but K'd looking at a 3-2 fastball. 0 for 4. He'd get one more at bat...
3. Nats vs Cards: The St. Louis Cardinals took five of their seven games with the Washington Nationals last season. The Cards were 6-0 against the Nats in 2013. Go back to 2012, and the NL Central division powerhouse has a 14-6 advantage over the defending 2014 NL East Champions.
In the all-time series (2005-present), St. Louis has a 39-25 record against Washington. While the Cardinals have had an edge in recent years, the Nationals have held their own in the nation's capital, with a 19-15 record in D.C. and a 13-12 record in games contested in Nats Park since it opened 2008.
When it really counted, of course, the Cardinals took the one posteason matchup between the two teams, rallying late for a 9-7 Game 5 win in 2012 that ended what was to that point the first posteason run by a D.C.-based team in 79 years.
With new roster additions, a new season and a clean slate for both teams, the Nationals and Cardinals renewed their "rivalry" tonight.
Lance Lynn started for the Cards, after going (2-0) in two starts against the Nationals in 2014 with one run allowed in 13 ⅔ IP (0.66 ERA) over which he held Nats' hitters to a combined .152/.204/.217 line.
Lynn worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless second, but a one-out RBI single through short by Bryce Harper put the Nationals up 1-0 in the third.
After a scoreless fourth, a 17-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth left the Cards' right-hander at 86 pitches and after a one-out walk to Bryce Harper and an opposite field single by Ryan Zimmerman in the sixth he was up to 99.
Yunel Escobar came up with runners on the corners and one out in the Nats' sixth, and grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3.
• Wilson Ramos walked to start the seventh on Lynn's 111th pitch. Danny Espinosa bunted/gave up an out on Lynn's 112th and final pitching, moving Ramos into scoring position... [ed. note - "Continued in no.1."]
• Lance Lynn's Line: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 7 Ks, 112 P, 67 S, 6/1 GO/FO.
2. Turning Point(s): The Nationals wasted a leadoff double by Ryan Zimmerman in the second, but cashed in after a one-out double by Ian Desmond in the third. Desmond lined a two-base hit to right off Lance Lynn, and after a walk to Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper stepped in and sent a chopper through short for an RBI single and a 1-0 lead.
Harper K'd on a full-count curve outside in his first at bat vs Lynn, but went with the backdoor bender when the Cards' right-hander tried to sneak another one by him in a 3-1 count the second time around.
1. The Wrap-Up: Tanner Roark took over on the mound for the Nationals in the top of the seventh inning and gave up a one-out single to center by Matt Holliday (2 for 2, BB), who took second on an error by Denard Span, who missed the ball as it rolled in the outfield. Two outs later, however, Holliday was stranded at second base.
Still 1-0 Nats.
Wilson Ramos walked to start the Nats' seventh and moved up on a sac bunt by Danny Espinosa. Kevin Siegrist took over on the mound for the Cardinals with Ramos on second and one out and... struck Reed Johnson out for the out no.2. Denard Span got a shot at driving the Nationals' catcher in and... singled to left, moving Ramos to third.
Cards' skipper Mike Matheny went to the pen again for right-hander Seth Maness vs Ian Desmond.
Desmond fell behind 1-2 trying to get a bunt down and K'd swinging to strand two.
Matt Thornton came on with a 1-0 lead in the eighth and got some help from his shortstop on a grounder to the hole that Desmond backhanded before throwing across his body to get Jon Jay at first. Cards' catcher Yadier Molina sent another grounder to short for out no.2, but Kolten Wong lined a single to right to keep the top of the eighth going.
Matt Adams came on in a pinch hit appearances, lefty vs lefty with Thornton, and after Wong stole second, went down swinging at a 96 mph 1-2 heater to end the frame. 11-pitch inning. Still 1-0 Nats.
Drew Storen came on in the top of the ninth after the Nationals failed to add to their lead in the eighth, and gave up a leadoff single to left-center by Matt Carpenter. A wild pitch with Jason Heyward up moved the runner up into scoring position at second, and another slider in the dirt got Heyward swinging but allowed Carpenter to take third. Matt Holliday stepped in with the tying run 90 feet from home and lined a 2-2 slider through short to tie it up.
A strike'em out, throw'em out double play ended the frame, but not until after it was a tie game. 1-1.
Danny Espinosa and Dan Uggla took back-to-back one-out walks from Matt Belisle in the bottom of the ninth, so the Cards turned to right-hander Jordan Walden vs Denard Span. Span worked the count full and sent a grounder to first that Matt Adams bobbled. Bases loaded. Ian Desmond K'd swinging. Jayson Werth... lined to center, but Jon Jay made a game-saving diving catch to send it to extras.
Aaron Barrett gave up a leadoff single to left by Pete Kozma (of course) in the first at bat of the Cards' tenth, and Kozma stole second as Yadier Molina K'd swinging for the second out of the frame, but he was stranded when Kolten Wong grounded out to first to end the top of the inning.
Two outs into the Nats' tenth, Yunel Escobar went yard. Walk-off winner.
Nationals now 7-7