Gio Gonzalez started the 2017 campaign (3-0) in six starts, with the Nationals 5-1 in his outings, over which the 31-year-old left-hander put up a 1.64 ERA, with a .222/.316/.341 line against, 18 walks (4.23 BB/9), 34 Ks (7.98 K/9) and four home runs allowed in 38 1⁄3 innings pitched.
In his last four starts before Tuesday night’s in AT&T Park, however, Gonzalez was (0-1) with the Nats 0-4 in his outings, over which he had a 4.94 ERA, with a .264/.366/.517 line against, 14 walks (4.40 BB/9), 20 Ks (6.28 K/9) and six home runs allowed over 28 2⁄3 IP.
Gonzalez was lifted after 5 1⁄3 innings in his previous start before last night’s, at home in D.C. against Seattle, having given up three hits, four walks, and two earned runs in what ended up a 4-2 loss.
Two singles in the sixth inning ended his outing, with Dusty Baker deciding to go with a reliever against Mariners’ slugger Nelson Cruz, who hit a go-ahead, three-run homer off reliever Justin Turner.
“I know Gio wanted to stay in the game,” Baker said, “but I thought the fresh arm — this is the third time around and you know Gio that third or fourth time around, you’re kind of flirting with danger with a dangerous hitter up there. That’s what I saw.
“It didn’t work. It’s my responsibility, but I was put in that position in order to make that decision.”
Gonzalez threw 60 pitches through four innings in AT&T Park on Tuesday night, giving up two runs, two walks, and five hits as the Nationals jumped out to a 3-0 lead early then added to it in a three-run fifth.
It took him 20 pitches to do it, but Gonzalez responded with a scoreless bottom of the fifth inning, which left him at 80 overall after five.
The first two batters in the bottom of the sixth reached base though, on a leadoff walk by Aaron Hill and a single on an 0-2 change up in the zone to Christian Arroyo.
Three outs (and one wild pitch) later, both runners were stranded, as Gonzalez completed a 22-pitch sixth at 102 pitches.
This time Baker decided to stick with his starter even after the long-ish sixth, sending Gonzalez back out for the seventh, and he gave up a leadoff double by Eduardo Nunez on the first pitch he threw.
One out later, Gonzalez was lifted with the runner on third. Matt Albers took over on the mound and gave up an opposite field, RBI single by Buster Posey, 6-3.
Gio Gonzalez’s Line: 6.1 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks, 108 P, 62 S, 7/5 GO/FO.
That was the final run the Nationals’ starter was charged with and the final run that the Giants scored in what ended up a 6-3 win after Albers came back out with a quick eighth and Koda Glover finished off the ninth.
“Gio was good. He was very good,” Baker said after the second straight win over the Giants.
“He made the pitches when he needed to. We were trying to get him through the seventh, but they had the dangerous Buster Posey up there next, so I gave [Pitching Coach] Mike [Maddux] the option to take him out if he thought that was enough versus wasting a visit. But Gio was good.
“Albers was right on time for us, he was spectacular, and then Koda came in the ninth, like no drama, and that’s the kind of ninth we like.”
Baker was asked about the thinking behind having Maddux lift the pitcher, though he said there was nothing unusual about it even if it doesn’t happen often.
“Just cause it hasn’t happened that don’t mean that it’s not possible,” Baker explained.
“Sometimes it’s what you do when you’re undecided about what we’re going to do at that point in time — you see we had guys warming up and at that time we just thought that Albers was a better option. And so Mike went out and discussed it with him and decided to take him out. I told Mike when he went out there, I said, ‘Hey, man, you go out there and you have the option to make that decision.”
Baker empowered his coach to make the decision. He tried to empower Gonzalez by sending him out for another inning which could have spared the bullpen a little extra work. It didn’t work out, but the Nationals got the win this time after it backfired on the Nats’ skipper in Gonzalez’s last start.