Gio Gonzalez, as he is wont to, gave most of the credit for his success in his 2017 debut to his pitching coach, Mike Maddux, and his catcher, Matt Wieters.
Gonzalez, 31, tossed six scoreless on 90 pitches (57 strikes) in the outing against Miami, which the Washington Nationals eventually lost, striking out seven batters and walking just two.
“Mad Dog had a great game plan,” Gonzalez told reporters after the start, referring to his pitching coach by Maddux’s nickname.
“We went over the hitters, probably a couple times,” Gonzalez added, “and we went with that approach. I just wanted to stay focused and attack the strike zone.”
Gonzalez had at least one runner on in each of his six innings on the mound, and he worked around back-to-back singles that started his final inning of work, leaving the game up 1-0 in what ended up a 4-3 loss for the Nationals.
“When he got in trouble, he had coolness of mind to get out of trouble,” Dusty Baker said after the finale of the three-game set with the Fish.
“Especially in that sixth inning, he was in trouble. He threw a very good game for us, excellent game, like I said, these guys over there, they’ve got some guys that can hit over there.
“And so he had them off-balance, he mixed his curveball in, him and Wieters had a good game plan.
“His changeup was good, his fastball inside was good, so he threw a very good game, and we would have loved to see him and us get the win.”
Before his second start of the season against St. Louis last night, Baker talked about what he’s seen from Gonzalez so far this season that’s made a difference.
“He’s calmer and he’s getting his curveball over,” Baker said. “Last year he was bouncing a lot of them or he’d try to shoot you with an inside fastball and I’d bet you eight out of ten of them were balls, you know, but now if he shoots you inside, seven out of ten are strikes and some of those bouncers — breaking balls, Mike Maddux tells him all the time, ‘Keep that curveball in the air,’ cause the ones that bounce, unless you get a young inexperienced hitter, the good hitters ain’t going to go for that bait, because that’s what it is, is bait. So that’s what I see.”
Gonzalez had runners on in each of the first three innings Tuesday night, in his start against the Cardinals.
Dexter Fowler doubled and scored one out later on a sac fly in the first, but Gonzalez stranded two runners in each of the next two frames.
Randal Grichuk took Gonzalez deep to right on a first-pitch changeup in the fourth, tying the game up at 2-2 a half-inning after the Nationals rallied to take the lead.
Gonzalez retired the Cardinals in order after the Nationals went up 4-2 on solo home runs by Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters in the bottom of the fourth and came out in the sixth with a 6-2 lead after a two-run home run by Daniel Murphy in the home-half of the fifth.
After a 1-2-3 sixth, he was up to eight-straight Cardinals set down, 93 pitches and six Ks and he’d set 11-straight down after a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh that left him at 103 pitches overall.
Gio Gonzalez’s Line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 Ks, 103 P, 67 S, 5/7 GO/FO.
“He threw an outstanding game,” Baker said. “He went seven innings and his pitch count was relatively low for seven innings.
“He kept his composure, his breaking ball was good, his inside fastball — he had good control and command of that and he got them off his curveball, but then he still was able to use his curveball, so he threw an outstanding game for us.”
Baker also talked about Gonzalez’s demeanor on the mound and the pace he works at when things are going well.
“Your pace is usually pretty good when you’re feeling confident that you can throw every pitch,” he said, “and Gio’s had a little trouble in the past with the shutdown inning after we scored, and he gave up the one and didn’t give up any more and then he shut them down the rest of the way. He’s continuing to throw the ball well.
“We need Gio, we knew that when we started the season, and so that was big, cause this team over here, they’ve got some offensive firepower and he did an outstanding job.”
The Nationals slugged their way to an 8-3 win with Jayson Werth, Matt Wieters and Daniel Murphy homering to help Gonzalez earn his first win, (W, 1-0, 0.69 ERA).
• We talked about Gonzalez’s strong start and the Nationals’ offense on Nats Nightly after the game: