Two innings into his start last night, Gio Gonzalez had an all-too-familiar look to himself. He was having trouble putting hitters away, resulting in a hefty pitch count of 43. He had already walked two batters. And though he had surrendered just one run to the Dodgers, he seemed to be teetering on the brink of far more serious damage.
What transpired after that - four more scoreless innings on just 54 pitches - offered the best evidence in a long time that Gonzalez can right what has turned into a wayward season.
“Just pound the strike zone, try to be aggressive,” the left-hander said. “That’s a team that’s gonna work you. Yesterday they were being aggressive. Today they tried to manage to get some pitches out of me. As soon as I established, I had to go out there and attack the strike zone.”
In retiring 13 of the last 14 batters he faced, Gonzalez positioned himself to earn the win in the Nationals’ 8-1 triumph over Los Angeles. It was his best all-around start since May 18, the last time he allowed only one run.
“We’re trying to reinforce to him that all you have to do is execute and make quality pitches, instead of trying to strike everybody out because you’ve got two strikes on the guy,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s what Gio did.”
One key for Gonzalez on this night: He was able to use his changeup more effectively than in other recent outings, including in unconventional counts (like 3-2).
“I was tired of getting beat on the changeup before, so today we worked on it,” Gonzalez said. “That’s something I was working on with (pitching coach) Mike Maddux: establishing where I wanted to throw it and just keeping it up and down, mixing it up.”
Gonzalez (now 6-8 with a 4.53 ERA in 19 starts) still has a ways to go to turn his season around altogether. But he has won three of his last four starts and is only one out shy of three consecutive quality starts.
For now, this is progress.
“He’s slowly but surely getting back to .500,” Baker said. “That’s our goal and his goal: To get him back to .500. Then you can start breathing better, feeling better. ... So, come on, Gio. Because we really need him, especially when we’re going to be facing some predominantly left-handed hitting lineups.”