Why another early hook?

FLUSHING, N.Y. - Even though Gio Gonzalez finished the seventh inning last night having thrown just 87 pitches, Edwin Jackson remains the only Nationals starter this season to record an out in the eighth.

Take a second to let that sink in.

As good as the Nationals’ rotation has been this season, there have only been three games where that day’s starter has notched an out in the eighth inning. And all three times, it’s been Jackson.

Gonzalez certainly could have worked into the eighth last night. He had allowed just two hits over the first seven frames, and given how much Davey Johnson has talked lately about wanting to rest the guys at the back end of his bullpen, it seemed logical for Gonzalez to take the mound again in the eighth.

But in a 5-1 game, with the Nationals having runners at first and second and two outs in the top of the eighth, Johnson opted to pinch hit for Gonzalez, bringing Tyler Moore in to try and tack on some extra runs.

“(Gonzalez) was still throwing the heck out of the ball and I liked the way the lineup was matching up for him with the back end of the lineup,” Johnson said. “They couldn’t have used any of those left-handers against him. But I’m always going to add on when I can add on.”

This case was different than the one Monday night, when Johnson was pulling Jordan Zimmermann after six innings regardless of where he was due up in the batting order. Johnson said he had full intention of sticking with Gonzalez last night, especially because he was coming off such a short outing his last time out, also against the Mets.

“He only went, the time before, I think 3 1/3 innings or whatever it was and 68 pitches,” Johnson said. “He had something to prove and he was going to prove it, and I was going to let him make up for the short stint last time and let him go eight.

“I have no problem going with him like I do Strasburg. He can go high up to 120 pitches as far as I’m concerned. But the guys were fresh that I wanted to bring into that ballgame and I thought we could ice it down, and we did.”

You can’t fault Johnson for turning things over to his bullpen late in the game because his stable of relievers has been so good. But it’s also interesting that the Nats’ skipper talks about being mindful of not overworking Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard, and still goes back to them when he has a chance to avoid it.

Not a criticism, necessarily, just an interesting observation.

Innings pitched notwithstanding, Gonzalez was excellent last night, allowing just an unearned run and striking out four. He was the most pitch-efficient he’s been all season, averaging just 12.4 pitches per frame, and setting the Mets down in order in four of his seven innings.

“They roughed him up over at our place, but he pitched a masterpiece,” Johnson said. “He was dominant from the first pitch on.”

That rough outing against the Mets last Thursday (in which he allowed six runs over 3 1/3) inspired Gonzalez yesterday.

“I wanted to redeem myself from last start, give our team a chance to go out there and try to compete,” Gonzalez said. “I think it was just one of those things where you want to bounce back. You want to want to bounce back as a pitcher. You don’t want to feel down and out. These guys came up to me and gave me some positive energy, positive feedback. I wanted to go out there and give them everything I can.”

As competitive as he is, Gonzalez wanted to stay in to work the eighth. He was pitching aggressively, pounding the strike zone and forcing Mets hitters to put the ball in play. But you won’t find this guy criticizing his manager’s decisions, that’s for sure.

“Davey knows what he’s doing,” Gonzalez said. “Bullpen has been unbelievable. I wouldn’t change a thing that he did.”

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