In his last turn in the rotation before Monday night's outing in Washington's 8-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the series opener in Chavez Ravine, Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez threw 95 pitches in five innings of work on the mound in D.C. in an 11-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in which he gave up eight hits, a walk and two earned runs.
Tonight in Dodger Stadium, the 29-year-old southpaw completed five scoreless on 58 pitches, six scoreless on 81 total, and only passed the 95-pitch mark as he wrapped up his seventh scoreless inning on the mound in what ended up an eight-inning start in which he walked one and gave up seven hits.
"I just thought he was in command the whole night," Matt Williams told reporters the Nationals' win, in which Gonzalez threw 76 of his 117 pitches for strike.
"The key for him is pitch count early," Williams continued. "Keeping it down as we spoke about today, and that allowed him to get through eight. Pitched really well."
Another key to Gonzalez's success against the Dodgers? His offspeed pitches. Gonzalez threw 63 four-seamers, 43 for strikes, and got swings on 34 and misses on five, with 5 of the 16 fastballs put in play, hits.
He also threw 15 of 22 changeups for strikes and got five swings and misses, and 23 curves, with three swinging strikes on his bender, and nine curves for strikes that were not put in play (or SNIPs, as they're called on Brooks Baseball).
Williams said afterwards that Gonzalez is at his best, obviously, probably, when his curve is as sharp as it was in LA.
"He's throwing it more," Williams explained.
"His percentages, when he's good, are about 20% curveballs. And when he loses command of the strike zone he's not throwing it as much. So it's a good get-me-over, it's a good strikeout pitch, we saw that a couple times tonight.
"If he throws it about 20% of the time he's really good."
Gonzalez's efficiency was particularly impressive, given the high pitch counts he's piled up in recent starts.
"I think he got some early outs, early in the game, and was in the strike zone," Williams said, "and when he can do that, then he can manage the pitch count innings one-through-five and get deeper in a game for us.
Williams was confident enough in how Gonzalez was going, that he sent him back out for the eighth at 97 pitches, and let him throw 20 pitches in the inning.
"Pushed him a little tonight, 117 [pitches], but the way he was throwing, cool night, heat's not a factor, and he was fresh, so allowed him to get to 117 tonight."
It was Gonzalez's highest pitch total of the year, and the most pitches he's thrown since he got up to 118 pitches in a September start against the Philadelphia Phillies back in 2013.
With the win, the Nationals' left-hander extended his unbeaten streak to eight straight starts, over which he's put up a 1.48 ERA (8 ER) in 48 ⅔ innings pitched. The Nats' win, kept them within 1.5 games of first in the NL East after the Mets beat the Colorado Rockies in the series opener in Citi Field.