Left-hander Gio Gonzalez got knocked around Tuesday night in an 8-0 loss to the Braves. The big hit arrived in the third inning when Freddie Freeman launched a three-run homer over the center field wall halfway up the grassy hill. That gave Atlanta a 4-0 lead.
Despite a day off Monday, the Nationals couldn’t get back to their good vibes from Sunday, when they clinched their fourth division title in six seasons after beating the Phillies 3-2 and got help from these very same Braves, who came back in extra innings to eliminate second-place Miami.
Gonzalez struck out eight, but allowed five runs on seven hits. Ender Inciarte had a RBI double and Matt Kemp tallied a run-scoring single for the Braves to round out the quick start.
Manager Dusty Baker praised Braves starter Julio Teheran’s seven innings of shutout baseball and acknowledged it wasn’t Gonzalez’s best outing.
“Gio wasn’t sharp tonight,” Baker said. “Freddie, boy he continues to hit us hard. Gio was a little under the weather today to start the game, but you’re going to have those days sometimes.”
Gonzalez allowed the four early runs, but struck out three batters in the first and three in the second.
“It was weird to me,” Gonzalez said. “You get the strikeouts and then all of the sudden, the hits came in. It was just one of those games. You take it for what it was, sweep it under the rug and get ready for tomorrow. It was one of those games you can’t really understand what happened. Just pick up what you can and go from there.”
In the first two innings, Gonzalez allowed one run on three hits. The hits were sandwiched by the six punchouts.
“He had the strikeout stuff, but (Ozzie) Albies hit him pretty hard and we don’t know much about him,” Baker said. “They got a good lineup over here, so it doesn’t matter where they are in the standings. They still got a good lineup.”
Freeman and Albies each went 3-for-5, each hitting a home run and finishing with a combined five runs scored and four RBIs.
Freeman hit his 26th homer with two men on in the third inning. Gonzalez got behind in the count 3-0. He fired a changeup that Freeman swung at to make it 3-1. But then Freeman crushed the next pitch, a two-seam fastball that reached 88 mph.
“I think with my approach with Freddie was 3-0 changeup then 3-1 fastball (and) he just got the fastball,” Gonzalez said. “That was on me. If I could’ve put it in a different location, it might’ve been a different result. It was just a fastball, got what he wanted and just he made the damage. I gave him the pitch he wanted.”
Gonzalez lasted only five innings, the first time he hasn’t finished six innings in back-to-back starts since May 19 and May 25. Baker alluded to Gonzalez (14-7) possibly being a bit under the weather. But Gonzalez wasn’t going to use that as an excuse to write off this one.
“You can’t take that away from the Braves,” Gonzalez said. “These guys, they swing the bat. They didn’t come in here to celebrate with us. They came in here to do their job. They were swinging the bat, they were patient when they needed to be and they were swinging when they needed to be. You got to give credit to their lineup. They did a good job.”
Catcher Matt Wieters agreed that the Braves can still hit. Atlanta scored eight runs on 14 hits and went 5-for-15 with runners in scoring position. The Braves accumulated seven doubles and the two homers.
“They put some good at-bats on him,” Wieters said. “Inciarte’s first at-bat of the game got his pitch count up in the first inning. I think Gio was just trying to be aggressive, trying to get back in the game and get deeper in the game. And when he made a couple mistakes, Freddie gets to 3-1 and hits a three-run homer. That was really the big blow. It’s just a matter of the guy’s a good hitter, and it’s tough when you get behind him to keep making pitches on him.”
Despite the loss, there was some good news for Gonzalez: He reached 180 innings for the season, which vested his $12 million option for the 2018 season.
But Gonzalez was in no mood to talk about his contract after the tough loss.
“That’s exactly it,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t know that yet. We don’t know what’s going on. I think we’ll just wait. Just wait to see what the end of the year looks like.”
He has now allowed at least five runs in two of his last three starts.
Reliever A.J. Cole was unable to keep the Nats close when he allowed three runs of his own. Albies homered and former Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki delivered a ground-rule RBI double in a two-run seventh inning for the Braves.
Notes: The Nats’ instructional league workouts will begin Monday, Sept. 18 instead of Friday because of the extreme weather caused by Hurricane Irma around the West Palm Beach area in Florida. Nats director of player development Mark Scialabba told me the facility made it through the hurricane in good shape and will be ready for play Monday.