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Gio Gonzalez solid vs Phillies, but Nationals’ bullpen blows late lead... again, in 4-3 loss

The Nationals’ win in the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader helped alleviate the pain of another late-game loss in the bullpen.

MLB: Game 1-Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Gio Gonzalez gave up seven hits (three of them home runs in the first), four walks and six earned runs last time out before Sunday’s start, in what ended up a 6-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in Oriole Park at Camden Yards last week.

The six runs allowed were as many as Washington’s 31-year-old lefty had given up in 25 13 innings pitched over four starts heading into that outing, over which he’d held opposing hitters to a .195/.320/.333 line, while going (2-0) with the Nationals 4-0 in his starts over that stretch.

The loss left Gonzalez (3-1) on the year with a 2.64 ERA, 4.98 FIP, 22 walks (4.47 BB/9), 36 Ks (7.31 K/9) and a .226/.326/.394 line against overall after seven starts and 44 13 innings.

It looked like he might be in trouble again early Sunday afternoon in his eighth start of the season and second start against the Philadelphia Phillies in 2017, but he settled in nicely after a 30-pitch first and completed six scoreless innings on 97 pitches, limiting the Phillies to two hits and three walks while the Nationals jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

Tommy Joseph took Gonzalez deep on his 104th pitch of the game with one out in the top of the seventh, and a two-out single to left field by Phillies’ catcher Cameron Rupp ended the Nats’ southpaw’s outing after 112 pitches total.

Gonzalez left the mound up 3-1, in line for his fourth curly-W in eight starts, and the Nationals’ bullpen made the lead hold up through eight, but Shawn Kelley faltered in a save opportunity in the ninth.

Kelley gave up a leadoff home run by Aaron Altherr on a 3-2 fastball that sailed out to left, and back-to-back, one-out doubles by Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp, with the second driving in the tying run, 3-3. A walk to Freddy Galvis ended Kelley’s outing, and Koda Glover took over and gave up an RBI single by Ty Kelly that put the Phillies up by one, 4-3.

That’s how it ended.

After the loss, Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker talked to reporters about another blown save and late-game loss and what the Nationals can do about it.

He was asked about losses like this afternoon’s carrying over and weighing on his team and giving opposing teams a confidence boost once they can get in Washington’s ‘pen.

“I knew that a long time ago,” Baker said, “that one of the biggest downers is a blown save, because it carries over and it also carries over to the opposition, where they think, ‘Hey, man, we can get in their bullpen and win the game.’

“And so we have to reverse that thought process and that trend that when it gets to the sixth and seventh inning — on the real good teams that I’ve had you get to the sixth and seventh innings, we know it and they know that the game is over.

“And so we just to got to go back to the drawing board, and try to figure it out. We’ve used different guys at different places and different guys late in the game, we just got Koda and Kelley back, and so in answer to your question, I don’t know right now.”

Are the answers in the organization, on the roster now, or do the Nationals have to go outside for help?

Baker was asked if the lead in the NL East allows them to take a more patient approach or if, alternately, they should be pushing for a trade?

“You’re always pushing for a trade,” he said, “but ain’t nobody trading right now.

“Sometimes you have no choice but to have patience. Nobody is going to drop you down a knock down closer out of the sky until there are some teams out of it.

“We have to look within right now. People know when you’re in need and when they know you’re in need then they have to rob you of your system.”

• We talked about the Nats’ bullpen and more on Nats Nightly last night: