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Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez tries to bounce back in opener vs Brewers

Washington Nationals' left-hander Gio Gonzalez followed up on his longest outing of the season with his shortest. The 29-year-old lefty tries to bounce back from his rough start in AT&T Park when he takes the mound in the nation's capital tonight.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Gio Gonzalez was on a roll before the took the mound last week in San Francisco's AT&T Park. He was on a streak of eight straight starts in which he had allowed two earned runs or less which went back to June 15th in Tampa Bay.

In those previous eight starts, the Washington Nationals' 29-year-old left-hander was 5-0 with a 1.48 ERA and a .245/.296/.326 line against in 48 ⅔ innings pitched.

Gonzalez was coming off an eight-inning outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Chavez Ravine in which he held LA's hitters off the board.

"I just thought he was in command the whole night," Matt Williams told reporters after what ended up an 8-3 win over the Dodgers.

"I think he got some early outs, early in the game, and was in the strike zone, and when he can do that, then he can manage the pitch count innings one-through-five and get deeper..." -Matt Williams on Gio Gonzalez vs the Giants

"The key for him is pitch count early, keeping it down as we spoke about today, and that allowed him to get through eight. Pitched really well."

Gonzalez threw a total of 117 pitches in his eight innings of work after throwing 105 in 4 ⅔ and 95 in 5 IP in his previous two starts.

"I think he got some early outs, early in the game," Williams said, "and was in the strike zone, 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."

Gonzalez said the opportunity to get through the eighth for the first time this season was important for him personally.

"The eighth inning means a lot," he told reporters in Dodger Stadium.

"I told the skip, 'Thank you for giving me a chance to finally go out there and open up what I needed to open up. Finally get that confidence to go out there and finally pass the sixth and the seventh inning.'

"To be in the eighth, it felt like it was the first time all year -- it might have been the first time all year I've gone eight, so for me it's definitely take it with a grain of salt. It's nice, but I've got to also move on and get ready for the next start."

Unfortunately, that next start ended up being Gonzalez's shortest outing of the season.

San Francisco's Giants put up six runs on five hits and two walks before Williams was forced to go to the pen with two out in the third inning after seven of the nine batters he faced in the frame reached base and six runs came in to turn a 2-0 lead into a 6-2 deficit.

"Falling behind on hitters wasn't making it easier. Especially when your team just gave you two runs in the first two innings. Took the momentum out of our hands..." -Gio Gonzalez on rough start vs the Giants last time out

"He lost command of the strike zone," Williams said.

"They got in some good hitters' counts and hit some balls really hard. He just couldn't get out of it. So we had to go to the bullpen again. I'd like to get him through that one and one more of course, but at that point he'd already been 30+ pitches in the inning, so we wanted to get him out of there and get him ready for his next one."

"Falling behind on hitters wasn't making it easier," a disappointed Gonzalez said when he met with reporters after what ended up being a 12-6 loss.

"Especially when your team just gave you two runs in the first two innings. Took the momentum out of our hands and gave it back to the Giants.

"I's a tough pill to swallow, especially when these guys are going out there, getting those two runs right off the bat."

The loss was the Nationals' fifth straight on what ended up being a six-game losing streak which left them a game below .500 after 117 games.

It was a low point, for sure, but the Nationals' second-year skipper rejected the idea that the team hit rock bottom with the loss.

"It's a loss," he said. "We have a lot to play. Rock bottom? We're still in this hunt here, so no."

The Nationals dropped the series finale with the Giants, but bounced back to take two games of three with Colorado, leaving them 60-60 on the year, four games back in the NL East at the end of their last long road trip of the year.

The Nats play the next nine and 16 of the next 19 at home where they are 31-23 so far this season.

Gonzalez gets a chance to put his start against the Giants behind him tonight, when he takes the mound against the Milwaukee Brewers in the nation's capital, where he's (5-1) in nine starts this season, with an ERA (2.60) two runs lower than it is on the road (4.84).