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Nationals’ lefty Gio Gonzalez struggles to throw strikes, but limits damage in 2-1 loss to Padres...

Gio Gonzalez was up to 54 pitches after two innings last night, but he held the Padres to a run on five hits in six innings.

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Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

In back-to-back wins in his last two starts before taking the mound last night in San Diego, CA, Gio Gonzalez gave up eight hits and four walks in 12 innings pitched, but just one run.

Gonzalez tossed five scoreless on 89 pitches in his previous outing before Wednesday’s in Petco Park, waiting out a 40-minute rain delay before returning for a 22-pitch fifth inning that ended his outing.

Through seven starts this season before taking on the Padres, the 32-year-old left-hander had a 2.33 ERA, a 2.56 FIP, 16 walks (3.72 BB/9), 42 Ks (9.78 K/9), and a .237/.310/.340 line against in 38 23 IP.

Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters after the left-hander’s win over the Philadelphia Phillies last week in D.C. that Gonzalez’s early-season success was all about his command of the strike zone.

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

“When he’s around the strike zone he gets bad swings, he really does. But he’s got to work ahead,” Martinez said.

“When he falls behind that’s when he gets into issues. The other thing too, his pitch count has been much better, and I like to see that.”

Wednesday night against the Padres, Gonzalez walked two and had his pitch count go up to 25 pitches (nine strikes) before he stranded two runners at the end of the opening frame.

He escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in a 29-pitch second that left him at 54 pitches on the night, and struck out the side in a 15-pitch third, but back-to-back one-out doubles by A.J. Ellis and Manuel Margot tied it up at 1-1 after an Anthony Rendon home run in the top of the fourth gave the Nationals a lead.

After a 16-pitch fourth, a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth left the lefty at 97 pitches overall, and Gonzalez came back out for the bottom of the sixth, and worked around a single in a 13-pitch frame.

Gio Gonzalez’s Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 Ks, 110 P, 61 S, 6/2 GO/FO.

All things considered, Gonzalez put together a solid start in what ended up a 2-1 loss for the Nationals in the finale with the Padres.

“He struggled with throwing strikes a little bit there,” Martinez said after the loss, “... but he battled, battled through, gave us six innings and gave us an opportunity to win the game.”

Has he gotten used to watching Gonzalez working in and out of trouble like he does when he’s not particularly sharp?

“When he needed to make pitches, he made them,” Martinez said.

“I wanted to give him a chance to get out of it, I wanted to give him a chance to get a win.

“And he gave us that, so, he did well. Gio is Gio, you know that. When he’s around the strike zone, he’s really good. Like I said, he battled, and he did really well and I was proud of him.”

Gonzalez said he struggled with his command early, but finally started to get comfortable.

“I worked my pitch count up because I wasn’t being aggressive in the strike zone,” Gonzalez told reporters, as quoted by USA TODAY. “Finally it worked.”

“Gio is tough,” Padres’ skipper Andy Green said after San Diego’s sweep-avoiding win.

“He clearly wasn’t sharp today, he kept missing off the plate, but he gets you leaning out over there then stands you up with fastballs in, and it seems like when he needed to make a big pitch to keep us from putting damage on the board, he managed to do that all day.”