Two starts back, in Arizona, Gio Gonzalez ran into trouble in the third inning of his outing against the Diamondbacks, and Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams, not pitching coach Steve McCatty, made his way out to the mound to talk to his starter and the Nats' infielders. Williams told reporters afterwards that the message he delivered was simple.
"We just got to get balls in the strike zone," he told the left-hander, who was in the midst of a 33-pitch frame in which he walked two of the eight batters he faced and gave up three runs.
"We can't give them free passes," Williams said. "We've got to throw balls in the strike zone. I went out and told him, 'Get the ball in the strike zone, these guys will lay out for you, they'll make the play. Get back in the strike zone.' That was it."
In his last start before this afternoon's, Gonzalez got in trouble in the fourth, and barely got out of what ended up being a 40-pitch inning in which he gave up four hits, two walks and four runs.
It looked today like he might have another rough inning in the fourth, when Freddy Galvis singled and Gonzalez walked Darin Ruf before giving up a two-out RBI hit by Jeff Francoeur that put the Philadelphia Phillies up, 1-0.
With runners on second and third and two down, however, Gonzalez attacked Cesar Hernandez and threw a brutal 0-2 curve by the infielder to strand both runners and limit the damage.
Asked after the outing, a 4-1 Nats' win in which he earned his fourth curly-W of the season, what was different this time around that allowed him to work out of the jam, Gonzalez responded in a way that hinted he might have internalized his manager's advice.
The difference he joked, was, "getting out of it," this time.
"That's the only difference, was minimizing the damage," Gonzalez said. "I wasn't going out there and trying to nitpick the corners or try to baby my pitches, it was go out there and be aggressive in the strike zone and again, we have defense for a reason, guys go out there and make great plays."
"He was down in the strike zone, which is good," Williams said today in discussing how Gonzalez got out of the fourth.
"If he wanders, generally it's up and away from the right-hander and today he didn't do that, today he was down, and that's the secret for his success. It just opens everything else up for him.
"Opens up the inside corner for him, opens up his changeup and his breaking ball. And he threw them all today, really well. Had some early count breaking balls for strikes, and then changeups down and away from the righties too."
But it was his ability to throw strikes down in the zone, in particular, that made a big difference according to the Nats' skipper.
"I just think he established low strike today," Williams said.
"Which helps with his breaking ball because it's a big sweeping breaker that gets down below the zone and his changeup. Establishing the low strike and being able to pinpoint that down and away helped him a lot today. He was good from the first inning."
With the win today, Gonzalez improved to (4-2) on the year with a 4.53 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 19 walks (3.19 BB/9) and 50 Ks (8.39 K/9) in 53 ⅔ IP.
Gonzalez, as he always does, gave credit to everyone else.
"I'd say the credit goes a lot to my catcher," Gonzalez told reporters. "He did a great job. I give credit to my pitching coach who helped me boost my confidence in my bullpen session. And another big piece to today's success was the help of Drew Storen. Just find little pieces that I need to find. Helping me refine my mechanics. And it's just fun picking everyone's brains."
Williams said the Gonzalez's ability to work down in the zone so well today was something he and Lobaton worked out together.
"I think it's partly the pitcher establishing down there and the catcher working with him," Williams said. "[Lobaton] is really good at giving the umpire a good target to look at and working with the pitchers. All of them."
"I just wanted to keep from [being] up in the strike zone," Gonzalez explained, "work my way down in the strike zone. The only time I wanted to get up was when I wanted them to chase out of the strike zone, but again, like I said, [Lobaton] did a great job, mixing it up and keeping me in the game, not constantly just falling behind on hitters and even when I did he was being aggressive and going out there and attacking the strike zone."
• We talked about Gio Gonzalez's outing, Bryce Harper and more on the latest edition of Nats Nightly: