The first start of Gio Gonzalez’s 2012 season came against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. That day, the lefty went just 3 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with three walks.
Today was a bit different.
Sure, it was a different Cubs lineup, one loaded with young guys suiting up for a team which is on pace for a 100-loss season. But Gonzalez was on-point all night tonight, throwing five no-hit innings before allowing a leadoff single to Darwin Barney in the sixth. He finished with seven scoreless frames under his belt, allowed just three hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out nine.
“I think he had a score to settle,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Early on (this season), they hit him pretty good, and he changed that around a little bit. That was outstanding. He had a great curveball. Used it. Threw some good changes. Of course, he’s always got that explosive fastball. About the number of pitches, I didn’t want him to go quite that far.”
Gonzalez has now thrown 16 straight scoreless innings dating back to his last start, which was a complete-game shutout of the Cardinals. Because Gonzalez was coming off that 119-pitch outing, Johnson was planning on limiting his starter’s pitches tonight, and that’s what he did, pulling him after the seventh at 93 pitches.
And if Gonzalez still had a no-hitter working when his pitch count reached the 90s? Would Johnson have left him in then?
“I’d have still hooked him,” Johnson said. “He might have fought me. I wasn’t worried about that.”
For some reason, I don’t believe the Nationals’ skipper there.
Just like Edwin Jackson last night, Gonzalez got excellent run support, as the Nats jumped on top 1-0 in the first, added four more in the third inning and never looked back.
They crushed six home runs for the second straight night, two of which came from Bryce Harper. That now leaves the rookie with 17 on the season, the third-most for a teenager in major league history.
“Harper’s been swinging the heck out of the bat here lately,” Johnson said. “He seems to be getting a little more relaxed. Same with (Ian Desmond). Same with (Danny Espinosa). It’s a pretty hard lineup to match up against. We struggled offensively a lot in the first half of the year. I knew that we had the talent to hit. We were at that low ebb in Colorado where we were hitting I think .237 as a team. Now we’re up over .260. That’s just not one or two guys. That’s everybody.
“Having the middle of the lineup healthy. Of all of them, (Michael) Morse is still not quite there. But he told me tonight he felt as healthy as he’s felt all year.”
Some teams have a tendency to play to the level of their competition, struggling to perform against mediocre teams and gearing up for the elite opponents. That’s not the case with the Nationals, who have outscored the lowly Cubs 22-7 in the first three games of this series.
“Good teams take nothing for granted,” Johnson said. “The guys down at the bottom, they a lot of times have more energy and more to prove about beating the guys at the top. We’ve been down there enough. We know what it’s like, and we’re not letting up.”