Gonzalez sharp early despite long layoff (Nats win 2-1)

Making his first appearance of the regular season and his first appearance of any kind in 16 days, Gio Gonzalez took the mound tonight at Nationals Park not entirely knowing for sure what to expect.

Three innings later, the left-hander has to be pleased with the results so far: nothing but zeros.

gonzalez  throw white sidebar.jpgGonzalez's season debut got off to a strong start, with only one hit surrendered to the Braves through three scoreless innings. There was a two-out walk issued to Freddie Freeman in the top of the first, and a botched double-play attempt by Danny Espinosa in the top of the second, but Gonzalez pitched around those mistakes and kept Atlanta from scoring.

Between rainouts, off-days and the Nationals coaching staff's preferred rotation order, Gonzalez found himself the last pitcher on the staff to appear in a game so far this season. He was last seen on the mound March 27 in Viera, Fla., relegated since then to throw bullpen sessions every few days to stay fresh.

The long layoff didn't appear to negatively impact Gonzalez early in this one. He completed his first three innings on a manageable 46 pitches.

Gonzalez's teammates, though, didn't offer up any offensive support against Braves right-hander Jhoulys Chacin. The Nationals picked up three singles off Chacin but couldn't bring anyone home, leaving this a scoreless game heading to the fourth.

Update: The zeros continue to pile up, both for Gonzalez and Chacin. We're through five innings now, and this remains a scoreless game.

Gonzalez has scattered three singles and a walk across his five innings. His pitch count is a bit elevated at 80, but not outrageously so.

Chacin, on the other hand, has allowed five hits, yet his pitch count is a much lower 59. The Nats threatened to score off him in the bottom of the fifth, but Michael A. Taylor struck out with runners on second and third, squandering the best opportunity of the night so far.

Meanwhile, up in Binghamton, N.Y., this evening, Lucas Giolito made his season debut for Double-A Harrisburg and tossed four scoreless innings. Giolito allowed just one hit, walking three and striking out four. He threw 59 pitches and was pulled, perhaps an indication of how the Nats plan to handle their top pitching prospect early this season.

Update II: Make it seven scoreless innings for both clubs. Both starters were pulled after six, with Gonzalez's pitch count at 95 and Chacin's at only 69. That latter decision was a bit odd, but the Nats weren't complaining about getting a chance to try their hand at the Braves bullpen.

Shawn Kelley wound up pitching a scoreless seventh for the Nationals, while Hunter Cervenka and Chris Withrow combined to hold the Nats down in the bottom of the inning. Something's gotta give eventually.

Update III: Nats win, and who better than Bryce Harper to deliver the game-winning hit? With two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth of what remained a scoreless game, Harper sliced the first pitch he saw from Eric O'Flaherty down the left field line and past a diving Jeff Francoeur, bringing home both runs and giving the Nats a 2-0 lead. Harper was fired up, big-time, as he reached second base.

With Jonathan Papelbon unavailable after pitching the last two days, Blake Treinen got a chance to close this one out. Treinen first escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth when he induced a double-play out of Francoeur. Then he returned for the ninth, recording two more outs before finally giving way to Felipe Rivero.

Rivero gave up an RBI double to Kelly Johnson, making this a 2-1 game, but he rebounded to retire Mallex Smith, record the save and leave the Nationals 5-1 for the first time in club history.

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