5. Gio vs the D-Backs: Gio Gonzalez gave up four hits and two earned runs in the first three innings last time out on the mound against the Miami Marlins. But after throwing 53 pitches in those three frames, the Nationals' 29-year-old lefty settled in and shut the Fish down, holding Washington's NL East rivals to just one hit over his final four innings of work in what ended up a 9-2 Nats' win.
"Last couple of innings he really turned it up with the fastball," Nationals' skipper Matt Williams said.
"He was feeling for it early, I think the first three innings about 50 pitches, and feeling for the strike zone a little bit tonight, but as he got through that, the last inning and two innings, he really turned up the fastball and let her fly and his curveball was better too."
Williams, and reporters watching the game, noticed that Gonzalez's fastball ticked up a bit too as the start went on.
"First three or four innings about 90 [mph]," the second-year skipper noted, "and then the last couple 93-94. He seemed as if he got loose and was able to just let it fly."
In addition to the increased velocity, Williams said, Gonzalez picked up the pace on the mound and got in a rhythm that worked well for him as he plowed through the Marlins' hitters, striking out eight of the last 19 batters he faced.
"I think it's the way he feels about his control on the mound," Williams said of Gonzalez's quickened pace.
"But it also contributes to his success. When he can keep that good pace going, gets the ball back, gets back on the mound and has good rhythm, then he throws it where he wants to and his velocity comes too. I think he did really well."
Gonzalez told reporters that he talked to his pitching coach, Steve McCatty, and teammates between innings and took their advice to speed things up.
"I think Cat helped me out with that too," Gonzalez explained. "Sitting next to him and talking to him a little bit and asking [Doug Fister], 'How's my tempo?' and everything like that.
"Cat did a great job by kind of pushing me, 'Hey let's go, pick it up a little bit, you're slowing down. Offspeed pitches you're slowing down.' It's nice to see when they're picking up and they're seeing that and giving you a heads up."
With the win, Gonzalez improved to (3-2) in six starts this season, with a 3.62 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 14 walks (3.38 BB/9) and 39 Ks (9.40 K/9) in 37 ⅓ IP, over which opposing hitters have a .282/.350/.423 line.
This afternoon in Arizona, Gonzalez was facing the Diamondbacks for the fourth time in his career after going (2-0) in the first three outings, with a 1.33 ERA and a .243/.309/.297 line against in 20 ⅓ IP.
His seventh start of the season began with a scoreless, 12-pitch first in which he recorded two Ks and worked around a two-out single by Paul Goldschmidt.
Aaron Hill singled to center to start the D-Backs' second, but was forced out at second base on a grounder to short by Chris Owings. Ian Desmond handled a chopper over the mound by Jordan Pacheco for out no.2, but Nick Ahmed singled to short to bring Hill in ahead of a throw from Jayson Werth in left that Jose Lobaton couldn't handle. Jeremy Hellickson's pop to foul territory in right ended a 14-pitch frame that left Gonzalez at 26 pitches.
Gonzalez came back our for the third with a 3-1 lead and gave up a leadoff single to left on a 94 mph 1-2 heater to D-Backs' outfielder Ender Inciarte and a walk to Mark Trumbo that brought Paul Goldschmidt up with two on and no one out. An RBI double off the wall in straight-center by Goldschmidt brought Inciarte around and made it 3-2 Nats. A.J. Pollock's groundout to second brought Trumbo in and an error by Ian Desmond on an Aaron Hill grounder to short allowed Goldschmidt to score and make it 4-3 Arizona. Desmond's 10th error.
A two-out walk to Jordan Pacheco earned Gonzalez a visit on the mound from a demonstrative and fired-up Matt Williams, and Gonzalez struck Nick Ahmed out with a 3-2 heater in the next at bat. 33-pitch frame, 59 total.
Jeremy Hellickson singled to left to start the D-Backs' fourth, but he was doubled up on a grounder to short by Ender Inciarte, and a groundout to short by Mark Trumbo ended a nine-pitch fourth, 68 total.
Paul Goldschmidt tripled to center to start the bottom of the fifth, leaving him 3 for 3 today and a home run away from a cycle. A.J. Pollock sent a sent a 2-0 change to left in the next at bat to bring Goldschmidt in from third and make it 5-3 D-Backs. Aaron Hill grounded into a 6-4-3 DP for the first two outs of the frame, but Chris Owings singled to keep the inning alive. Jordan Pacheco's fly to center ended a 16-pitch frame. 84 total for Gonzalez.
• Gio Gonzalez's Line: 5.0 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 Ks, 84 P, 56 S, 9/2 GO/FO.
4. Hellboy: The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Jeremy Hellickson last November in a 2 for 1 trade that sent minor league infielder Andrew Velazquez and minor league outfielder Justin Williams to the Tampa Bay Rays, ending the 2005 Rays' 4th Round pick's time with the organization that drafted and developed him.
In his first six starts with the D-Backs, the 28-year-old right-hander was (1-3) with a 5.85 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 11 walks (3.06 BB/9) and 25 Ks (6.96 K/9) in 32 ⅓ IP heading into this afternoon's series finale in Chase Field, over which opposing hitters had a .328/.376/.555 line against him.
Hellickson struggled early in the first six outings, with the opposing team scoring runs in the first in four of his last five starts before today's and 13 of the 21 runs he's allowed so far this season coming in the first three frames.
He'd also struggled against left-handed batters, who had a .424/.470/.661 line against him in 66 plate appearances early this season, with right-handed hitters posting a .256/.301/.474 line in 85 PAs.
Hellickson's first career start against the Nationals began with a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 first.
Bryce Harper lined a 91 mph 2-2 fastball to right field for a leadoff double in the second, his eighth two-base hit of the season, and moved up a base on a groundout to second by Ryan Zimmerman. Ian Desmond stepped with Harper on third and sent a weak grounder to second base that wasn't enough to get the runner in. Jose Lobaton got a two-out RBI opportunity, but grounded out to first to end a 14-pitch second that left Hellickson at 26 pitches.
Given a 1-0 lead to work with, Hellickson retired the first two batters he faced in the third before walking Denard Span and hitting Yunel Escobar. Jayson Werth stepped in with two on and two out and hit a three-run blast into the second deck in left-center field. 3-1 Nationals. 2-1 fastball, massive blast. Nats up by two after a 26-pitch frame by Hellickson, who was up to 52 pitches after three.
Ryan Zimmerman lined an 0-2 changeup to left for an infield single in the top of the fourth, but three outs later he was stranded at third and Hellickson was up to 67 pitches after a 15-pitch frame.
Denard Span singled to start the fifth. Bryce Harper walked with two down. Span and Harper pulled a double steal with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate, but Zimmerman popped out to foul territory off first to end a 13-pitch fifth that left Hellickson at 80 pitches.
Danny Espinosa walked with two down in the sixth, so the Nationals went with a pinch hitter, Tyler Moore. That was it for Hellickson... and his replacement on the mound, Randall Delgado, served up a game-tying home run. 5-5.
• Jeremy Hellickson's Line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 91 P, 51 S, 9/3 GO/FO.
3. #LOBATRON: Jose Lobaton has started just seven of the Nationals' first 34 games, but he's made the most of the opportunities he's been given early this season, putting up a .304/.429/565 line with two home runs in 28 plate appearances so far in 2015.
After going 1 for 13 in his first four starts, Lobaton's picked it up over the last three, going 6 for 10 with both of his HRs in his last two games.
Matt Williams has definitely noted, and appreciated what the backup backstop has done with the opportunities.
"He understands that there may be a week that he only plays once, and then there may be a situation like today (against Teheran) where we've got a good matchup that he plays in a game that Wilson [Ramos] would ordinarily play in. He provides good defense. Good game-calling. And knowing our guys which is good.
"Unfortunately, last year, Wilson was out quite a bit and he got a chance to know these guys. So it's not like he's stepping into a situation he hasn't been in.
"He's comfortable with that. He's come up with a couple of big homers for us lately and he continues to play well."
In two seasons in D.C. after the February 2014 trade that brought him over from Tampa Bay, 30-year-old catcher has filled in admirably when he's started and Ramos has struggled with injuries and posted a .241/.302/.329 line with nine doubles and four home runs in 258 plate appearances.
This afternoon, in the series finale with Arizona, he was facing a familiar opponent in Jeremy Hellickson, who was his teammate for three years while both were with the Rays.
Lobaton stepped in for the first time today with a runner on third and two out in the second, but grounded out to the right side, 0 for 1.
A groundout to short in the fourth moved Ryan Zimmerman to third with two down and left Lobaton 0 for 2.
A groundout to first in the fifth left him 0 for 3.
At bat no.4 came with two down in the eighth against side-winder Brad Ziegler. Lobaton drew a two-out walk. 0 for 3, walk.
2. Turning Point(s): Jeremy Hellickson retired the first two batters in the third after his teammates gave him a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second, but the D-Backs' right-hander walked Denard Span, hit Yunel Escobar and served up a 2-1 fastball to Jayson Werth that ended up in the second deck in left-center in Chase Field. Werth's three-run blast made it 3-1 Nats after two and a half in the series finale.
The D-Backs retook the lead in the bottom of the inning, however. Ender Inciarte singled to start the frame and a walk by Mark Trumbo, an RBI double by Paul Goldschmidt, an RBI groundout by A.J. Pollock in the at bat that followed and an error by Ian Desmond leading to three runs scoring. 4-3 Arizona after a 33-pitch frame by Gio Gonzalez.
A two-out walk to Danny Espinosa in the Nats' sixth ended Jeremy Hellickson's day and his replacement on the mound, Randall Delgado, gave up a game-tying two-run home run to pinch hitter Tyler Moore. 5-5 after Moore's second home run of 2015.
1. The Wrap-Up: Tyler Moore's second home run of the season, off D-Backs' right-hander Randall Delgado tied things up at 5-5 after five and a half in Chase Field.
Tanner Roark took over on the mound for the Nationals in the bottom of the sixth inning and gave up a one-out walk to Cliff Pennington and a double to left by Ender Inciarte that put runners on second and third with one out.
Mark Trumbo battled for nine pitches, but popped out to second. Paul Goldschmidt got the intentionals, bringing A.J. Pollock up with the bases loaded and two down, but a groundout to second ended the threat. Still 5-5.
Delgado retired the first two Nats in the top of the seventh, then Oliver Perez came on to face Bryce Harper, who was punched out on a check-swing strike three that. Harper argued vociferously with home plate ump Rob Drake and got himself ejected. Matt Williams picked up the argument and got tossed as well.
Roark came back out for the bottom of the seventh inning. Chris Owings singled to right with one down, and Jordan Pacheco followed with a line drive single to center. Nick Ahmed grounded into a force at second for out no.2. Matt Thornton came on to face Cliff Pennington with runners on the corners and two down and struck him out after a 10-pitch battle.
Brad Ziegler took over for the Diamondbacks in the eighth, issuing a two-out walk to Jose Lobaton before retiring Danny Espinosa on a groundout to second.
In the D-Backs' half of the eighth, Ender Inciarte reached safely on a hard-hit grounder to short that Ian Desmond couldn't handle. E:6. Aaron Barrett came on for Matt Thornton with Mark Trumbo at the plate. Inciarte tried to steal second, but got gunned down by Jose Lobaton.
Mark Trumbo walked in front of Paul Goldschmidt, who K'd looking at an 0-2 slider. A.J. Pollock singled to center on a 95 mph heater. Pinch hitter Yasmany Tomas stepped in with two on and two out and lined an RBI single to center to make it 6-5 D-Backs.
Addison Reed came on to close it out for the D-Backs, but gave up a one-out single to center by Denard Span. Yunel Escobar singled through short on a 2-0 fastball. Jayson Werth stepped in next, got up 3-1 and walked to load the bases for Michael Taylor, who hit a grand slam to center field!!!!!!
Drew Storen came on for the save struck out the side.
Nationals now 19-16