Midway through the top of the first inning on Saturday, it looked like Gio Gonzalez was in for a long night. He followed a flyout by Nick Markakis with back-to-back walks against Pedro Ciriaco and Freddie Freeman. Walks are a bad sign for any pitcher, but especially Gio who can be prone to them.
Shortly thereafter, though, Gonzalez settled in to put out one of his best starts of the 2015 season. He allowed only two hits through six scoreless innings. He held the Braves hitless through five - a feat that earned him a standing ovation from Nationals fans - and at one point struck out eight of 11.
Gonzalez was locked in and helped pave the way for a fourth straight win for the Nationals, one that gives Washington a chance for a rare four-game sweep of the Braves on Sunday.
“It’s just being on the same page with your catcher," Gonzalez said. "It helps out a lot especially with [Wilson Ramos] just wanting to be aggressive today. He was telling me yesterday and he was telling me today let’s go, let’s pound the strike zone."
"I just thought he commanded the strike zone well today," manager Matt Williams said. "Threw some good breaking balls to strike guys out, too. Hard breaking balls down and in to the righties. With two strikes, that was effective for him, too. Managed pitch counts innings 2-through-4 and he was able to get through six for us. I think it was really good. He had a couple of walks interspersed in there, but for the most part in command."
Gonzalez outdueled Braves' starter Shelby Miller, who came into the game ranked fifth in the NL with a 2.56 ERA. The Nationals' lineup handed Miller his worst outing of the year: seven earned runs on seven hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings.
The first inning was a minor scare for Gonzalez, but he did run into some serious trouble in the sixth. The Braves loaded the bases with two outs on singles by Nick Markakis and Nick Swisher and a walk by Michael Bourn.
Gio, however, escaped by getting Andrelton Simmons to ground into a forceout at second base for the final out of the inning. It was his 106th and final pitch of the evening.
Gonzalez was appreciative his manager gave him the chance to work out of trouble before calling it a night.
"I was happy that skip gave me a chance to pitch through that sixth inning and get out of my own mess, which is great. We saved another arm in the bullpen," he said.
Gonzalez continued what has been a good few days for the Nats' rotation. Nationals starters have only allowed four earned runs in 22 1/3 total innings during this four-game winning streak. Rookie Joe Ross is up next as the Nats aim for the sweep on Sunday. Then, it's Max Scherzer to kick off a pivotal series against the New York Mets on Monday.
Gonzalez will not face the Mets, but feels like Saturday's win is something he can build off of with just a handful of starts left for him on the schedule.
"[Pitching coach Steve McCatty] was telling me today when I was warming up he was like 'you're finally getting that extension that you wanted. You’re getting out in front, which is great. You finally got your fingers on top of the ball.' Once that came about it was just trying to pound the strike zone and try to be aggressive with Wilson. It worked," he said.