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Gonzalez' effort caps historic weekend for Nats starters

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Gonzalez' effort caps historic weekend for Nats starters

There was no no-hitter this time. It wasn't even a complete game. But what Gio Gonzalez turned in Sunday as a follow-up to Max Scherzer's gem may very well have been his most efficient and effective start of the season.

Buoyed by a nine run first inning -- one he helped contribute to with an RBI double -- the lefty starter hurled seven shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on just 85 pitches to help lead the Nationals to a 9-2 victory.

On a normal day, that'd be considered a really solid outing. But when you're the guy who pitches less than 24 hours after your rotation mate throws a no-no, even the very good can seem ordinary. 

"It was a tough act to follow," he said afterward. "I just one-upped [Scherzer] on the hit. That’s all I did."  

Regardless, Gonzalez' performance capped off what was a memorable and historic Father's Day Weekend for the Nats' rotation. He, Scherzer and rookie right hander Joe Ross combined for 23 1/3 innings of work with 25 strikeouts, three walks and just one earned run allowed between them.  As a whole, Washington's staff set a club record with 24 consecutive scoreless innings pitched before Pittsburgh scored two runs in the ninth.

"That's unbelievable," right fielder Bryce Harper said of the feat. "Starting with Joe Ross then going into the weekend and seeing Maxy do what he did...hopefully we can keep it going as a team. Hopefully we can keep it going as a staff." 

MORE NATIONALS: Scherzer the day after his no-hitter: 'I can't believe it happened'

It's a common saying in baseball that momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. But Gonzalez and other members of the Nats' clubhouse might beg to differ, as they suggested that the afterglow of a big-time performance or two can linger. 

"We just carried it over into today," first baseman Clint Robinson said. "[We're] playing with a lot of confidence these past three games. I think Gio fed off of Max and went out there and threw a good ball game."

"Joe was the guy who anchored for us and started us off," Gonzalez added. "Maxy, just an unbelievable game. He was fun to watch, every pitch. You didn’t mind sweating your butt of because he was pitching his butt off and it was fun to watch because Maxy’s incredible. It was just Mad Max doing whatever he does best, just going out there and dominating. It was kind of tough to follow up on his act."

The rotation's efforts helped the Nats sweep the previously red-hot Pirates and get Washington back into first place in the NL East. And though Herculean efforts like this past weekend's can't be expected every time out, it's obvious that the unit's consistency and health are the keys to the club's hopes for a second straight division title. 

"It's just one of those things of the game where when you get good starting pitching and all the hits start falling," said Robinson, "it just makes it fun so you can go out there and win ballgames."

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

With a win on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals come into the All-Star break at 48-48. 

That's not great! It's certainly an underperformance given all the expectations, but the season hasn't been without some stellar individual performances . 

Take, for starters, Max Scherzer. Scherzer's on pace to have an even better year than his 2017 Cy Young-winning effort, which is mind-boggling. 

An even-more-refined command is what's made him better this season, as his walk rate is down below seven percent again after creeping up to 7.1 last year. It hasn't affected his strikeout rate, either, which has stayed steady at 34 percent. If the season ended today, it'd be the 4th straight year where he set a career-best in that department. 

Of all starting pitchers, he ranks second in WHIP, and K/BB percent. He has the third-lowest average against (.178) and third-best strikeout percentage (34.5). He's got a top-10 ERA and FIP as well. He's been the best pitcher in baseball this season, and will probably be in the conversation for N.L. MVP as well. 

If only the Nats could just go from Scherzer to Doolittle. The closer stopped walking people, too, and already has 22 saves after ending last year with 24. Had he not been put on the D.L. with a toe injury about a week before the All-Star game, he more than likely would have set his career high in saves before the break. 

He's currently on pace to post the second-best year of his career when it comes to strikeouts, too. He's getting Ks 37.1 percent of the time, which would be the highest since he posted a 37.7 in 2014. Same goes for his K/9. He also has a top-10 ERA and FIP. He's been one of the few relief pitchers that have been consistently reliable through the first half, and the Nats will need his toe to get real healthy real quick. 

And lastly there's Bryce Harper, who you've surely heard is not having an All-Star caliber season. His batting average is hovering around .200, he's striking out more than he has in four years, and he's getting eaten alive by the shift. He's also on pace to have one of his best power-hitting seasons ever and finish with close to 40 home runs, so even his bad years still find a way to be impressive. 

Harper also benefits from being one of the faces of baseball playing in front of his home fans. He's one of the most popular players in the league, and All-Star games find a way to get those people in. An All-Star game in D.C. without him would be objectively less enjoyable, so it was in everyone's interest to have him there. Stars just get the calls sometimes. 

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