Zimmerman, Gonzalez take much-needed positive steps

Danny Espinosa was the story of last night’s blowout win, not to mention the story of June for the Nationals, given his incredible resurgence at the plate that might well have saved his job.

There were a couple other teammates, though, who came through during this 13-4 win over the Reds at a time when each desperately needed that kind of positive performance: Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez.

Zimmerman got the Nationals’ hitting party started with a three-run homer in the bottom of the first, snapping a 17-game slump in which he was hitting .141 with 24 strikeouts, three walks and a paltry .393 OPS.

Perhaps most notable about Zimmerman’s blast was that it came on a 2-0 pitch, a rare case in which he has been able to get ahead in the count during this recent skid.

“Obviously getting into a hitter’s count is always nice,” he said. “But that’s kind of how it goes. When you’re struggling, it seems like you’re always 0-2. And when you’re going well, you’re always 2-0 and 3-1, and pitchers make mistakes instead of making perfect pitches. You’ve just got to keep going.”

Zimmerman followed up his homer with a single to left in the bottom of the third, that one also coming when ahead in the count (1-0). As always, the veteran first baseman has tried not to get too down or start tinkering too much despite his struggles.

“Obviously I haven’t had the results I wanted to, and I’ve kind of gone up and down a little bit,” said the 31-year-old, now hitting .227 with 11 homers, 36 RBIs and a .699 OPS. “But a lot of time I’ve hit the ball hard and had good approaches. Obviously it’s not all about bad luck. But it’s not even July 1 yet, so we’ve got a ways to go.”

gonzalez-gio-throwing-white-wide-sidebar.jpgGonzalez had been mired in a lengthy slump of his own, winless in his last seven starts with an 8.44 ERA and 1.71 WHIP during that timeframe.

The left-hander’s evening started off in shaky fashion when he loaded the bases with nobody out, but he escaped that jam suffering only minimal damage (one run) thanks to a key double play off the bat of Reds cleanup hitter Jay Bruce.

“I should have never been in that situation in that first place,” Gonzalez said. “But hearing it from other pitchers, Stephen (Strasburg) brought it up and he said: ‘Take that.’ That (play) literally, it was the determining factor of whether it was gonna be a tough game (or not).”

Gonzalez found a groove after that, retiring 13 of the next 16 batters, striking out nine of them. He did fade in the sixth inning, giving up three runs to a Reds lineup that suddenly turned aggressive and hacked at Gonzalez’s first-pitch strikes during what had become a blowout.

But ultimately, this was an important positive step for the lefty, who sorely needed one.

“That’s exactly what I took into this game,” he said. “It’s a step to the right direction.”

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