NEW YORK - After a wild, dramatic, sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat win in the regular season opener, the Nationals had a smooth 5-1 victory today that featured seven extra-base hits, six strong innings from Gio Gonzalez and three near-perfect relief frames in which Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen combined to strike out seven of the 10 batters they faced.
Opening day had a little bit of everything. Today’s win was a bit less chaotic for Nats manager Matt Williams.
“A little less, yeah,” Williams said with a smile. “I would take the first day every day, as long as we come out on top. Today was definitely a little smoother - for me personally, at least.”
The Nats slugged two homers, four doubles and a triple tonight. Eight of the Nats’ nine starters recorded a hit (Bryce Harper was the lone starter without one) and that includes Gonzalez, who hit his third career homer. The ball hit off a railing just above the left field wall and came back onto the field, leading to some initial confusion. Gonzalez decided to play it safe and sprint around the bases just in case the umpires ruled the ball hadn’t left the yard, which cracked up his teammates.
“The ball came straight down off the rail,” Williams said. “The second base umpire signaled homer, but by that time, Gio was running around the bases trying to get three and didn’t stop. It’s good. You can’t assume anything. You don’t know. We don’t want him running that hard all the time, though.”
Gonzalez joked afterward that he needed an oxygen tank after that trot around the bases.
“It was good that we had a longer inning, so he could catch his breath before he went back out there,” Williams said with a smile.
Gonzalez gave up a run in the first and seemed to have trouble figuring out home plate umpire Clint Fagan’s strike zone, but he settled in and allowed just three hits over his six frames.
“It just starts with his fastball,” Williams said. “Once he established his fastball command, everything else works off of that. He did that tonight, settled in and was able to find that command and his other stuff, too.”
Storen has now retired all six batters he’s faced this season, with four strikeouts. He threw just 13 pitches in a quick seventh inning, and Williams was asked whether he considered leaving the right-hander out there for the eighth.
“It depends on the day,” he said. “It depends where we’re at in the bullpen. But with the day off, everybody was fresh. And that’s our rotation. With that day off, there wasn’t any concern about sending Clip out there. And then once we scored again, (Rafael Soriano’s) still a little under the weather. So with a day game tomorrow, had to get Stammer in there tonight, and he was good.” The Nats now have punched up 31 strikeouts over these first two games. That’s a lot of Ks, especially from a pitching staff whose pitching coach - Steve McCatty - prefers fewer strikeouts and more quick outs.
“I just think it’s a byproduct of the way they go about it,” Williams said. “We preach pitching to contact because we want quick innings and lower pitch counts and all of those things. But they’ve got good stuff, too. They do get a lot of foul balls, they do get a lot of strikeouts, which takes their pitch count up a little bit. That doesn’t mean that we don’t preach pitching to contact, either, because we want quick innings with those guys.”