Michael Gonzalez bridges gap, fights through eighth to help hold win

Speaking with left-hander Sean Burnett last week, I asked him if it was surprising that the Nationals carry three southpaws in their bullpen.

Burnett said, “Our left-handers can get both lefties and righties out. We are not just lefty specialists. I think (Michael) Gonzalez has been a huge part of the bullpen and saves my arm. (Tom) Gorzelanny eats up innings, too. We got some valuable lefties out there.”

Fast forward to Saturday night, and manager Davey Johnson goes to Gonzalez to get through the eighth inning in a 6-5 game.

Gonzalez walked two hitters in that frame. With the go-ahead run at first base, he settled in and was able to get the Diamondbacks’ Jake Elmore to fly out and Stephen Drew to strike out to end the threat.

“Gonzo came through in the eighth, that was huge for us. Everyone did a great job tonight,” closer Tyler Clippard said on the “Nats Xtra” postgame show. Clippard came on in the ninth to record his 24th save.

Johnson could have easily given up on Gonzalez when the Diamondbacks netted two base runners. He didn’t. That helps Gonzalez’s confidence about as much as his impressive end to the eighth could ever do.

Gonzalez has said several times that he has coached Ross Detwiler how to be and stay aggressive. In getting Elmore and Drew out to end the eighth, Gonzalez was just as aggressive.

So, similar to Gio Gonzalez coming in and hurling a complete game in Houston, the other Gonzalez on the roster (no relation), saves the bullpen Saturday in the desert and bridges the gap between Gorzelanny, Mattheus and then Clippard.

And with it, the Nationals have won a season-high eight straight games.

So much has been said about the starting pitching, and now the resurgence of the offense has grabbed headlines.

But the bullpen deserves a tip of the cap tonight as well. With the way this crew has fought through late innings and saved games, especially guys like Michael Gonzalez, the ‘pen has proven just how important it is to the Nationals and their 71 victories.

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