Manager Davey Johnson has harped on it the last couple of starts for his top-of-the-rotation guys.
Stephen Strasburg and Thursday's starter, Gio Gonzalez, have been unable to consistently get ahead early in at-bats at the start of games. It has ended up hurting their results. They began the season a combined 2-5. Last season, they combined for 36 wins.
On Wednesday, Strasburg failed to get a strike on the first pitch in the first frame. The Cardinals put up three runs on three hits and went on to win 4-2.
In Gonzalez's starts April 14 and April 20, he pitched only a combined nine innings, allowed 12 runs and walked seven hitters.
But Gonzalez followed a different script Thursday.
"He started the game a lot better," Johnson said of Gonzalez, allowed one hit over eight innings in an 8-1 win over the Reds. "He started right after them. In the previous two games, he was missing early. He was mixing his curveball, throwing some good curveballs for strikes."
"It was first-pitch strikes," Gonzalez said. "That was basically it. You try to attack the strike zone quick, especially with a team like that. You don't want to fall behind on them."
Johnson said a big key for Gonzalez was that he was getting guys out quickly. On April 14, Gonzalez threw 98 pitches in five innings. On April 20, Gonzalez tossed 90 pitches in just four innings.
"He has got great stuff," Johnson said. "His ball moves a heck of a lot and it is hard to center on. But is a lot easier to center on when you see a whole bunch of pitches every at bat. He had 112 pitches in eight innings. He has about had that in about five (innings) the last couple of starts."
Johnson said he noticed how much bite Gonzalez's curveball had, and it forced some sloppy swings for the Reds.
"He was using his curveball," Johnson said. "Today, I think he hardly threw any changeups. You get much more pitch-efficient. The main thing is when you see less pitches it is hard to center on the ball."
Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said Gonzalez is better when he doesn't think too much about "hoping the hitter doesn't do this and that. That is when he falls into trouble."
"Today, it was really get the ball and go," said Suzuki. "It was rock and fire. That is what Gio needs to do and that is what Gio does. And when he does that, he is successful more times than not because his stuff is just that good."
Gonzalez said he was hearing from Suzuki and Johnson, about what was working, and that got him to build up confidence. A 6-0 lead after three innings helped a bit, too.
"It feels great when your manager is going out there and saying, 'Give us another inning,' " Gonzalez said. "The guys are coming up to you and saying keep going, 'Don't give in yet. You are not done yet. You still got more work to do.' My job is to make sure we stay in the game as long as possible. Especially with a team like that, you can never know."