Nationals winning pitcher Gio Gonzalez was provided early run support that helped him concentrate on the job at hand. Going eight strong innings, Gonzalez allowed the Cubs only four hits and one walk with no runs allowed. The Nationals ended up pounding the Cubs 13-0.
Gonzalez gave credit to the defense behind him and catcher Wilson Ramos guiding him through each inning.
"I feel like the team is getting me there," Gonzalez said. "With their help, and everything they are doing, the catcher, Ramos and Jose (Lobaton), (pitching Steve) McCatty, too, in the bullpen sessions. It's a nice win when you get seven runs right off the bat. And you start feeling your comfort zone right after that, you want to attack the strike zone and keep going."
Gonzalez was having particular success locating his changeup, which got him some critical swings and misses. He was happy that he was able to throw it with good command.
"It helps stay off the fastball. You don't want to be a pattern pitcher," Gonzalez said. "Just two pitches - fastball, curveball. Its good I have confidence throwing to both our catchers and they call it. I might shake them off one or two pitches, but it seems like they are consistent the entire game. I think they do a great job mixing it up and helping me boost confidence as the inning goes along."
How did Gonzalez get his changeup to do what he wanted it to in important parts of the game?
"It's definitely a feel pitch. I've just been confident throwing it," Gonzalez said. "I don't want to lose the confidence that I have on my changeup. And again, that's all thanks to our catchers, who have been calling it back-to-back and giving me an opportunity to keep throwing it in the strike zone and don't steer away from it."
Ramos sensed in the bullpen that Gonzalez was going to have a good game. He watched as Gonzalez threw his changeup at the right speed and hit his spots.
"The beginning of the game when he's warming up, you can see how his pitches are that day," Ramos recalled. "Today, the changeup working pretty good. I have to call that pitch all day because it's working good. That's happened. We call a lot of changeups, curve, too, we mix it up pretty good. He threw the ball well, a perfect inning. So that's what we need for that guy. If that guy stays like that, we got the opportunity to win a lot of games."
Gonzalez said the offense, which provided a six-run third and later six more runs after the fifth inning, gave him the added confidence to pitch without worrying about each pitch.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was a big factor in the offense, going 4-for-5 with two doubles, two runs and three RBIs. Every starter in the lineup collected at least one hit. The team put a season-high 13 runs on the board and pounded out a season-high 19 hits.
"Ever since we've gotten some of the guys back and now that we have everyone back, the offense is kind of slowly but surely getting better," Zimmerman said. "Obviously this isn't going to happen every day, but just the type of at-bats we put together today even with the game out of hand, it's good to see everyone grinding it out, everyone just finishing the game strong.
"When the lineup is deeper and longer and you have more tough guys to pitch to, it makes them work harder and throw more pitches and they're more prone to make mistakes the more pitches they throw."
Ramos agreed with Zimmerman that with everyone back healthy, it can be a lethal lineup again.
"I believe in my guys. I know what we got on this ballclub," Ramos said. "Everybody can hit the ball well. That's what we need. We need everybody to stay on fire and try to help the team. If we stay like that, something good is coming."
Zimmerman said it also will help this team if Gonzalez can pitch like he did Saturday.
"Yeah, he's been great," Zimmerman said. "He's throwing a lot of strikes, going after hitters. Looks like he's feeling healthy again. That's good for us."
Ramos was also able to catch Starlin Castro stealing early in the game before the onslaught offensively. He credited Gonzalez with helping make Castro think twice before going.
"The pitchers, they do a really good job keeping the runners close to the base," Ramos said. "Hold the runners. That is a help to the catchers to be more comfortable behind the plate to throw the runners out."
Is there anything different about how he throws runners out this season?
"I'm not changing anything. Just try to be quick behind the plate and put the ball in the air and see what happens," Ramos said. "That's what I like to do. I (don't) like to try to do too much. The catch the ball, move my feet, and put the ball in the air and see what happens. But the pitchers, they help a lot. This year, they help us a lot."
Zimmerman said they will enjoy the team's sixth win in their last seven games. But he also knows Jake Arrieta is their opponent in the finale Sunday.
"We'll enjoy it for today and then forget about it," Zimmerman said. "We've got to come out and face a pitcher that's been really good the last three or four times out and maybe one of the best in the league. We have a tough task ahead tomorrow. We'll enjoy this for a little bit and then kind of turn the page and get ready."
He also knows the Braves keep winning, too.
"Atlanta is a good team. I think they are going to win games," Zimmerman said. "I don't think anybody around the game thought that either one of us was going to pull away from the other. The difference this year is last year when they won their 10 or 12 games in a row, we lost eight or nine games in a row. That's kind of how they pulled away. This year when they got hot, we've gotten hot to stayed right with them. That's really all you could ask for."