Nats jump on D-backs early, then ride Gonzalez to 3-1 win

The familiar elements were there. An early lead but missed opportunities to add on. A starter getting into trouble late in his outing, leaving the manager to decide whether to stick with him or turn to his struggling bullpen. And then some tense moments late as they tried to hang on for a much-needed win.

The setup was familiar. The end result was not. The Nationals flipped the script for a change and hung on for a 3-1 victory over the Diamondbacks this afternoon, avoiding a weekend sweep and yet another nip-and-tuck loss.

Early home runs by Matt Wieters and Michael A. Taylor after Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray had to depart with an oblique strain put the Nats ahead. Gio Gonzalez then did the rest, going seven strong innings and protecting the lead to earn his manager's trust.

Gonzalez-Delivers-White-Side-Sidebar.jpgOnly six days earlier in San Francisco, Gonzalez publicly lamented the fact Davey Martinez had pulled him after a leadoff walk in the sixth inning with his pitch count at 94. This time, Martinez left Gonzalez in and was rewarded with seven innings of one-run ball to help ease the burden on his bullpen.

Needing only two late innings from the beleaguered group, Martinez had Brandon Kintzler pitch the eighth and Sean Doolittle pitch the ninth, giving Ryan Madson (who blew an eighth-inning lead Saturday evening) the day off.

The Nationals (12-16) found a way to take at least one game from an Arizona club that has won all nine of its series to begin the season and leaves town owning the National League's best record.

The Nationals thought they'd be facing a stiff challenge in Ray, their onetime prospect who was traded to Detroit in the 2013 Doug Fister deal and then blossomed into an All-Star last year in Arizona. But after throwing a first-pitch ball to Wieters in the bottom of the second, the left-hander winced and motioned to the dugout for a trainer. He departed with a right oblique strain.

Now facing long reliever T.J. McFarland, the Nationals tried to take advantage. Wieters got things going by driving a 3-2 pitch from the left-hander into the visitors' bullpen. And when they loaded the bases with one, they appeared to be business for a big inning. Alas, as has too often been the case this month, they couldn't deliver the big knockout punch when they had a chance. They scored one run when McFarland couldn't handle Ryan Zimmerman's comebacker with the bases loaded, but that's all they got after Bryce Harper grounded out to end the inning.

Taylor did loft a moon shot to left field in the bottom of the third to extend the lead to 3-0, but that's all the Nationals got over 4 2/3 gutsy innings of emergency relief from McFarland.

Gonzalez did his part to ensure they wouldn't need any tack-on runs, though. The lefty navigated his way through his typical early game jams and high pitch count - he was sat 57 through three innings - but he got better as the afternoon progressed. He struck out the side in the fifth, then got through the sixth with his pitch count at 97.

With a decision to make only six days after his starter groused about the quick hook on him, Martinez stuck with Gonzalez for the seventh. And the lefty rewarded him for his faith. Despite a leadoff single followed by a walk, Gonzalez got through the inning with one run across the plate, striking out David Peralta on a curveball to end the frame and his day at 114 pitches and perhaps change the narrative that had been starting to emerge.

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