Talking umpiring and positive signs from G. Gonzalez

It's never a good thing when an umpire becomes a hot topic of discussion.

Umpires are a lot like long snappers in football - you only really hear about them when they've made a mistake.

Unfortunately, Angel Hernandez's name was brought up a lot last night.

Hernandez, who isn't shy about putting his stamp on a game, called two balks from behind home plate and had what seemed like a shaky strike zone most of the night. He got quite a few nasty glares from players after what they felt were questionable calls, and was the recipient of some choice words from Bryce Harper on two separate occasions when Harper was called out looking on borderline pitchers.

In the sixth inning, Harper's strikeout ended a bases-loaded threat. Here's the strike zone plot of that at-bat, which shows a couple incorrect calls, but ones which were not blatantly wrong. The same can't be said for Harper's strikeout in the fourth, in which PitchFX shows strike three was clearly well off the plate outside.

Hernandez won't be behind the plate again tonight, but it'll be interesting to see if Harper goes up to him at any point to discuss the calls from last night. A calm conversation a day later might help smooth things over between the rookie and the veteran ump.

For a team that's won four times in its last 37 games, the Astros sure have put up a heck of a fight the last three days.

They came back from a three-run deficit late in Monday night's game, came within inches of earning a dramatic extra-inning comeback win on Tuesday and then put the go-ahead runner in scoring position in the ninth inning last night.

Of course, the Astros have gotten some help from the Nationals, who haven't exactly played their best baseball during this series.

Last night, the Nats went 1-of-12 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on.

They ran into an out at home in the first and left the bases loaded in the third and sixth, the latter of which was all the more frustrating because they had filled the bases with none out.

The situational hitting has been pretty poor during this three-game stretch, but luckily, the Nats have done just enough offensively and gotten (stop me if you've heard this before) excellent starting pitching to help carry them to wins.

Gio Gonzalez's numbers his last two times out don't look exceptional on paper - he's allowed seven earned runs over those two outings, spanning 17 innings. But both starts have been really encouraging when you consider that they're the two longest outings he's posted this season.

gio red throwing road atlanta sidebar.jpgGonzalez went eight innings against the Marlins on Saturday, needing just 101 pitches to get that deep into the game. He threw 76 strikes, struck out 10 and walked none.

Last night, he not only recorded an out in the ninth inning for the first time in his career, he threw a complete game on 117 pitches, striking out seven, walking two and saving a bullpen which needed a day off in the most desperate of ways.

Prior to that start against the Marlins, Gonzalez had topped the 100-pitch mark nine times this season. In those outings, he'd worked an average of just over six innings. Lately, he's been much more economical with his pitches, has been attacking hitters and getting ahead in counts. (Much like Ross Detwiler in his last couple outings.) Gonzalez still is striking guys out, but the walks are down and he's forcing the opposition to put the ball in play.

These two outings come after an 11-start stretch in which Gonzalez had posted a 4.48 ERA and allowed nearly a walk every two innings.

If Gonzalez can stay on the attack and keep working into the seventh and eighth inning, he could be really tough to beat down the stretch. And if he can smack a few more homers, that couldn't hurt, either.

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