While Davey Johnson might not enjoy having to sit down with reporters and answer questions about his team’s performance after every single game, you can bet that experience was a bit easier to take tonight than it had been the last four days.
Johnson’s Nationals smacked 12 hits and picked up an 8-1 win over the Reds tonight, snapping a four-game losing streak and getting back on track after what had been a fairly trying week for the guys in the Nats’ clubhouse.
“Real satisfying,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys were saying to me, ‘It’s been a long time since we were shaking hands’ (on the field after a game). I said, ‘No doubt about that.’ You’ve got to take the good with the bad. Sometimes it’s tough. It’s tough for everybody out there. But getting going is the main thing.
“That was a big day. A lot of guys got base hits and swung the bat really good. This guy is not too easy to hit because he throws a lot of soft stuff and it’s hard to center on the ball. But I was pleased with just about everybody’s at-bats during the game, so that was great.”
Denard Span had three hits, including a two-run triple, and Bryce Harper homered and doubled. But with apologies to those two, this game was largely about Gio Gonzalez and Danny Espinosa - two guys who have struggled in the early stages of this season but put up big efforts tonight.
Gonzalez allowed just one hit - a Joey Votto solo homer - over eight tremendous innings, striking out seven and walking two. Espinosa homered, doubled and drove in three, matching his RBI output for the season coming into tonight’s game. And he did it on his 26th birthday, no less.
“I was really happy for Espi to see him swing the bat good, and I guess he has to have his birthday every day or something,” Johnson said. “Gio was just outstanding. Probably any other time other than this, coming off a couple bad outings, I’d have let him finish that ballgame. But he was up over 110 pitches and I didn’t want to do it. But outstanding effort. Great job.”
Johnson felt Gonzalez had gotten into trouble his last two starts because he was being too fine with his pitches and not attacking hitters. Tonight, the lefty went right at the Reds, and 78 of his 112 pitches were for strikes.
“He started the game a lot better,” Johnson said. “He started right after them. Previous two games, he was missing early. He was mixing his curveball, throwing some good curveballs for strikes. ... It was a fun game and Gio did a heck of a good job. I love seeing it. He really pounded the zone.
“He had 112 pitches after eight innings. I mean, he’s about had that in five the last couple starts. And also he was using his curveball. I don’t think today he didn’t hardly throw any changeups. But that’s the kind of pitcher he is. And that’s what Stras did after the first inning his last start. Going after them, and you get much more pitch efficient and you can go much longer in the ballgame.
Espinosa, who came into tonight hitting .155, smoked a first-pitch changeup from Reds righty Bronson Arroyo in the second inning that resulted in an RBI double off the wall in right-center. In the third, he worked a six-pitch at-bat and then drove an 88 mph sinker over the right field wall for a two-run homer.
“He’s a very confident young man,” Johnson said. “He had a great spring. He came out of spring really liking where he was at. We all liked where he was at. He’s really attentive this year. His goal was to improve every year, and I feel like what he was working on in spring and what he did in spring, it’ll start paying off for him. ...
“Sometimes, it just takes time before the breaks start to fall your way. Certainly, I’ve not been down on him. He’s played outstanding defense. It was good to see him smiling in the ballgame, even after he made an out. He felt like he could’ve gone the other way with a ball and instead he pulled it. That’s all good.”
The Nats were good today, but they also got a couple breaks for seemingly the first time in a few games. The biggest came when Votto hit Jayson Werth with a throw while attempting to start a 3-6-3 double play in the third inning. The ball trickled into center field, and both Werth and Adam LaRoche, who had put the ball in play, ended up safely in scoring position. Both came around to score in the four-run third inning that broke the game open.
“Again, you make things happen,” Johnson said. “I think that was the first ball LaRoche has hit in the last seven at-bats or something. Jayson was running on the inside part of the base line. You make your own breaks.
“But it was just a good all-around game. That’s more like who we are: Good pitching, timely hitting.”