Just when you though it was safe to turn on a Nationals game and have some semblance of confidence in the starting pitcher's ability to take control, Gio Gonzalez took the mound Tuesday night and reminded us this rotation remains something less than desired right now.
Gonzalez lasted only 3 1/3 innings during the Nationals' 6-1 loss to the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., giving up five runs before departing. Truth be told, he was lucky the damage wasn't much worse.
Gonzalez faced 22 batters during the outing and let 12 of them reach base safely (eight hits, three walks, one hit batter). He loaded the bases three times in four innings, and if not for great defensive plays by Michael Taylor (leaping to make a catch at the wall in left field) and Danny Espinosa (snagging Gonzalez's bounced throw to first) he might well have given up a whole lot more.
This was yet another head-scratcher during what has been a wildly inconsistent season for Gonzalez. He has allowed two or fewer runs six times in 13 total starts, but he has allowed five or more runs five times.
The end result: a 4.82 ERA and more head scratching.
Of course, the same could be said for the entire Nationals rotation, which like its lone left-hander has been wildly inconsistent this season, leading to plenty of head scratching. Yes, Max Scherzer has been brilliant, never more so than he was during Sunday's 1-hit, 16-strikeout masterpiece in Milwaukee. And yes, Joe Ross came up huge during Saturday's win, despite his inexperience.
But in the bigger picture, the Nationals rotation remains something of an enigma. That group now owns a collective 4.14 ERA, which ranks 10th in the NL. Opponents are hitting .273 against Nats starters, 12th out of 15 NL clubs.
And, in perhaps the most-telling sign of the rotation's inconsistent nature, Nationals starters have now failed to complete four innings nine times in 64 games this season. They did that only 10 times throughout all of 2015. Only the Rockies, with 11, have done it more times this year.
This, to put it mildly, is not what anybody expected from what everybody expected was among the best rotations in baseball. And it may not continue, not with Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg close to returning from the disabled list.
But right now, for a Nationals club that is dealing with a banged-up lineup and an ever-changing bullpen, the one constant should be this rotation. Instead, those starters have been just as inconsistent as the rest of the roster during a wildly up-and-down first 2 1/2 months to the season.