The game had essentially been decided by the time the second inning was done with the Nats trailing 7-0 after two on the way to a 9-1 loss to the Athletics. Gonzalez had easily his worst start of the season, allowing seven runs on nine hits, including two homers, in 4 1/3 innings. The left-hander walked three, struck out four and saw his ERA jump from 2.91 to 3.97.
Gonzalez wasn’t at all happy with what transpired.
“I felt like I was starting to get in a groove in the last couple innings. I just had to fight to find the strike zone,” Gonzalez said. “It was not a mistake, I was just trying to figure it out. Mistake pitches, I left them up in the zone, and good hitters are going to make contact. ...
“It’s always nice to come back to Oakland and see some familiar faces and enjoy it. But I’ve still got a job to do and just go out there and pitch. But obviously it was a different story today.”
Falling behind in counts always makes it tough, and that was especially true against A’s catcher Derek Norris, who hit two three-run homers on 3-0 pitches from Gonzalez - one in the first and one in the second. Coincidentally, Norris was part of the A’s haul from the Nats in the Gonzalez trade.
Was Gonzalez surprised Norris swung at those pitches?
“3-0 fastball down the middle, would you wait for that pitch, especially with men on base? I would’ve done the same thing,” he said.
As much of a story as Gonzalez’s struggles was the heated incident in the Nats dugout that was caught on MASN’s cameras after the second inning. Gonzalez was shown yelling in the direction of an unknown teammate who was off-camera. Gonzalez was seen making motions toward that teammate.
The exchange followed an infield popup that fell between catcher Jose Lobaton and third baseman Anthony Rendon, and potentially could’ve let a run score. But the ball rolled foul. Norris went on to hit the second of his two three-run homers in the inning.
Lobaton indicated the player Gonzalez was yelling at was shortstop Ian Desmond. Neither Gonzalez nor Desmond offered comment.
“Nothing happened,” Gonzalez said.
Said Desmond: “I think I missed that.”
But Lobaton spoke at greater length even though he didn’t include many specifics.
“Some little thing that we think sometimes we can do it - ground balls, fly balls - but there’s nothing we can do,” Lobaton said. “I want to block every ball. I want to throw everybody out. I want to call a perfect game every time. But it’s not like that. It’s baseball, and we’re going to make a mistake. That’s how we learn, that’s how we keep working. Desi was upset with that, with the fly ball I think, but there’s nothing we can do after. So this is a game that you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, and it’s like that. It’s baseball. But it’s over now.”
Lobaton also provided his assessment of Gonzalez’s performance. What did he think went wrong for the Nats starter?
“Control. I think it was control,” Lobaton said. “We got too many hitters behind in the count and then the first time I didn’t think that guy would swing 3-0, and then it’s like, 3-0 what are you going to throw? His best pitch is his fastball and the second time, I was for sure that he was not ready to swing. And then he got it two times.
“But I don’t think (Gonzalez) was controlling too much in the first two innings because in the third inning, it was different. He was working better, better curveball and better fastball command. It was just a bad first two innings, and nothing we can do.”
Lobaton elaborated on how Gonzalez improved after the second inning.
“That’s what he wants. That’s what we want for him. The first two innings, he was a little shy. Might’ve been in the third inning, he was different, he was more aggressive,” Lobaton said. “Breaking ball was working and much better. First inning, breaking ball was not the same. So I don’t know what is the difference. I don’t know what he was thinking at that moment, but I want whatever he was thinking after the third and just keep doing the same. And then he will do better.”
That led to the Nats being swept by the A’s after scoring just four runs in the three-game set.
The Nats have endured significant injuries to their position players and have struggled to find offensive consistency.
“It’s baseball. If you figure out the recipe for consistency year in and year out, you’d be a very, very, very productive team,” Desmond said. “But that’s the way the ebb and flow of the game goes and you’ve just got to win more than you lose.”
A’s left-hander Scott Kazmir didn’t do the Nats any favors, holding them to four hits over seven scoreless innings to improve to 5-1 on the season.
“He looked good. He worked quick, he was in the zone. He threw three pitches for strikes and had good defense behind him,” Desmond said.
So how do the Nats react to such a rough series?
“Brush it away and move on,” Desmond said.