Gonzalez and Span speak after sweep of Astros

The Nationals’ advance scouting saw that Astros starter Scott Feldman was slow to the plate. They felt they could run on Astros catcher Jason Castro.

The strategy worked, playing a key part in the Nationals scoring two early runs. They lost that lead, but eventually ended up beating the Astros 6-5, going 5-for-5 in stolen bases, all off Feldman.

But Denard Span said after the game that stealing five bases was not the crux of the overall game plan.

“I don’t think collectively as a team we talked about it, to be honest with you,” Span said. “Before the game, Tony (Tarasco) did tell me that Feldman was a little bit slow to the plate, and he told me to get him. Once I got to first, I just trusted my instincts and got a good jump and stole. And I think everybody else did that, too. I think we had five stolen bases tonight. We were aggressive tonight, which was good.”

Span now has 12 stolen bases on the season. He needs 18 in the final 92 games of the season to reach his own personal goal.

Span said the offense makes it a mandate in facing every opponent to be aggressive on the base paths and put pressure on the defense to make a play.

“That’s something we do talk about before each series, just we preach just being aggressive,” Span said. “Taking first-to-third opportunities and being ready to run when the ball is in the dirt. Just little things like that. That’s what wins games. Those are the little things that good teams do.”

Span’s aggressiveness did hurt him in the sixth. He smacked a run-scoring double, but then was thrown out at third on an outstanding relay from the Astros’ Jose Altuve.

“I probably should have stayed at second,” Span said. “Out the box, I kind of thought he was going to catch it. I kind of was talking to the ball as I was getting to first, telling the ball to get down. Like I said, by the time the ball got over his head, I tried to stretch it for three, but yeah, situation like that, if it was to happen again, I probably wish I would’ve stayed at second.”

Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez returned from the disabled list and was able to get through five innings, but did not factor into the decision. He left with his team down 4-2.

Gonzalez allowed four runs on five hits, walked three, hit a batter and struck out six Astros. He tossed 93 pitches, 61 for strikes. It was his first start since May 17. He had been on the shelf with left shoulder inflammation.

“Not my strongest outing, but it was definitely a step to the right direction,” Gonzalez concluded. “I’m back off the DL, which is a great sign. First three innings was trying to get the arm on top. And the fourth inning, I tried to get ahead of the hitters but couldn’t put them away. Walking a guy and hitting a guy will definitely start something. It’s something to learn from. Dust the cobwebs off a little bit and get back at it. It’s definitely a work in progress.”

Gonzalez was not going to blame rustiness on why he struggled a bit. In the fourth, he allowed four runs on three hits and Houston erased a 2-0 deficit to go up 4-2.

“You know what? There should be no excuses,” Gonzalez said. “Still gotta go out there and execute your pitches and do your job. You wanna keep up with this rotation. It’s a great rotation. You don’t want to be a guy left out. I see a work in progress and moving forward. I can’t be negative about the whole game. I’ve gotta look at some of the positives.”

Gonzalez said it was important that manager Matt Williams showed faith in allowing him to go out and get three outs in the fifth after laboring through a game-changing fourth

“I credit my pitching coach, Steve McCatty, and Matt Williams for letting me go out there and letting me build my confidence out there and letting me go back out there and pitch,” Gonzalez said. “That fifth inning made me feel confident again and gave me the boost of confidence that I needed.”

Gonzalez will now wait to see how hi shoulder feels Thursday and Friday following a 93-pitch effort.

“You know what?” Gonzalez asked. “I’m very confident. I’m ready to go, keep pitching and keep moving forward. I’m happy to be with this rotation that is going to constantly keep me moving forward and positive. I can’t give all the credit to the pitching. I’ve gotta give some to the hitting. Six runs, coming back like that, I tip my cap to these guys. They kept me in the game and worked their tails off to get me out of that jam.”

He said he will focus on finishing off at-bats in his next start.

“Getting ahead of the guys and making sure to put them away early,” Gonzalez said. “Can’t fall behind guys especially when you got them 1-2 counts, 0-2 and giving them a chance to come back. Hitting the guy and walking the guy ahead of the count is something that needs to stop. As a professional pitcher as I like to look at myself, I gotta do better at that.”

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