Martinez gives Gonzalez rope, lefty responds with big win

It was as animated as Gio Gonzalez had been during a postgame interview in several years. After getting pulled by new manager Davey Martinez following a leadoff walk in the bottom of the sixth on Monday night in San Francisco, the veteran left-hander didn't hide his true feelings about the matter.

"It sucks, because I want to be out there," said Gonzalez, who had thrown 94 pitches at the time of his exit. "Apparently, I've just got to some way, somehow convince (Martinez and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist) I can go past five innings."

Martinez approached Gonzalez at his locker the next afternoon and the two engaged in what each described as a positive conversation. And when the opportunity presented itself again this afternoon during the Nationals' 3-1 victory over the Diamondbacks, the manager showed more faith in his starter.

And his starter rewarded him for that faith.

Gonzalez-Throwing-White-Sidebar.jpgPermitted to take the mound for the top of the seventh with his pitch count at 97, then entrusted to get out of his own jam moments later, Gonzalez delivered. He allowed one run to score, but recorded three straight outs and ended his afternoon with a wicked curveball to strike out David Peralta and truly earn his third win of the season.

"I was just happy that Davey gave me a chance, Lilly gave me a chance," Gonzalez said. "It was great communication today."

There were admittedly some extenuating circumstances for Martinez and Lilliquist, who were dealing with an overworked bullpen and few available reliable arms. Ryan Madson was out after pitching the last two days and taking Saturday's loss. Sean Doolittle was available to close but was pitching for the third straight day. Brandon Kintzler was available to set up, but he also pitched Saturday and has appeared in 14 of the Nationals' 28 games to date.

Given all of that, more than a few uniformed personnel were Gonzalez's biggest fans this afternoon.

"Oh, I was really rooting for Gio," said Kintzler, who wound up pitching a scoreless eighth to set up Doolittle's fifth save. "I knew he wanted to finish that inning in San Francisco, so I was going to hold him to it if he didn't go back out and finish it. I was rooting really hard for him. I was rooting for a lot of runs, to be honest with you."

A blowout win would've helped everyone, but those are few and far between for the Nationals right now. So Gonzalez had to make do with the three early runs provided to him via Matt Wieters and Michael A. Taylor's solo homers and a fielding error by T.J. McFarland with the bases loaded.

The lefty made it all hold up, laboring a bit early on - 57 pitches through three innings - but getting better as his start progressed, including a 1-2-3 top of the fifth in which he struck out the side.

His starter's pitch count at 84 at that point, Martinez believed he could coax two more innings out of him.

"He had an extra day (of rest since his last start)," the manager said. "And two, he was getting ground balls. His fastball looked live. His breaking ball was good. So I told Lilly, I said: 'I think he's good for 115 pitches today.' "

Gonzalez nearly hit that number on the button. When he gave up a leadoff single to Ketel Marte and then walked Deven Marrero to open the seventh, Lilliquist called down to the bullpen to have Trevor Gott begin warming up. But he and Martinez stuck with their starter, giving him an opportunity to do what he did so well in 2017: pitch out of a jam.

And that's what Gonzalez did. He got John Ryan Murphy to ground into a fielder's choice. He traded a run for an out on Daniel Descalso's sacrifice fly to center. And then he broke out a 2-2 curveball to strike out Peralta and end his day on 114 pitches and a high note.

"You could tell he was getting a little bit tired, but he knew what we had (available in the bullpen) from what we'd been going through," Wieters said. "He knew he needed to keep going. He showed a lot of guts to get through it. ... I just kind of kept telling him: 'One more. Just get one more.' He had the two lefties there, and one more, and he did a great job. That's what we needed him to do to get through the seventh."

Time will tell whether this outing changed Martinez's perception about Gonzalez and convinced him to give him more rope in the future. But for this day, at least, the two were in sync and were able to enjoy the end result together.

"I think it was just collectively from all around the infield, everyone kind of like calming you down and talking to you," Gonzalez said. "Again, I'm big on those kinds of things: communication, slowing you down. If I speed up, I want to be slowed down. I don't want to continue to go in that same spiral effect. So it was good that everyone was back there talking me through it. It was good."

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