BOSTON - For the ninth time this season, the Nationals put up five hits or fewer and still won.
This is what happens when you have the level of starting pitching, and pitching in general, that the Nationals do.
Gio Gonzalez and four Nats relievers combined to hold the potent Red Sox lineup in check today, allowing just two runs and five hits in a 4-2 Washington win.
Gonzalez gave up just two hits through six innings, but he allowed three of the four hitters he faced in the seventh to reach base. That drew manager Davey Johnson from the dugout, as he opted to turn things over to his bullpen, which allowed two runs to score but eventually shut it down.
"I knew I left myself wide open to be second-guessed," Johnson said of the decision to pull his starter. "I just don't like it when he starts rushing and starts getting a little wild. (Michael) Gonzalez did a great job of getting us out of the jam, and the other guys did their job. I've seen (Gio Gonzalez) get in those situations where it's like he's trying to get to the finish line. I've stayed with him numerous times, but I didn't have that good feeling in this ballpark. Maybe it's just this ballpark."
Johnson let Stephen Strasburg battle through a jam in the sixth inning yesterday, but he opted to pull Gonzalez, today's starter, after 98 pitches. That's something that Johnson says he might continue to do early in the year.
"This is before the first half," Johnson said. "I'm quicker on the draw, on the hook, early in the season. When they're getting later into the season, I want them fresher to throw longer. I'm working my bullpen pretty good. My bullpen is kind of in disarray right now with some injuries. I'm taking them as far as I normally do this time of year."
The Nats didn't do much damage offensively, but they did enough. After Daisuke Matsuzaka set down the order in the first inning with two strikeouts, Adam LaRoche led off the second with a homer to right, and in the fourth, the Nats tacked on three more, getting to Matsusaka before he could settle into a groove. The righty did have eight strikeouts in five innings in his 2012 debut, but that three-run fourth was the key frame.
"That's been our strength all year long, holding the opposition down, giving them a chance to go ahead," Johnson said. "And then we had a big outburst, which was great. (Ian) Desmond had a great hit. The offense is more relaxed, because the pitching is so good. I think sometimes our pitchers try to be too fine, knowing that we can't give up a whole lot. Our bullpen has been outstanding, and we'll be getting healthy soon."
Yet again, we see what the Strasburg-Gonzalez tandem can do to an opposing team. Over the 12 1/3 innings those two worked these last two days, they went a combined 2-0, allowed four runs, seven hits and had 18 strikeouts.
"They're two entirely different pitchers, and two very talented pitchers," Johnson said. "It's no picnic to the opposing hitters. It can put them in a bad way. Gio's been exceptional, moreso than anybody on the ball club, giving up hits per innings, because he's so hard to hit. I do worry about him when he does start speeding up and starts rushing toward the finishing line. But he had another exceptional performance."