Nationals

Quick Links

Gonzalez turns in uneven outing, drops third straight

usatsi_8766731.jpg

Gonzalez turns in uneven outing, drops third straight

It was only a few weeks ago that it seemed as though Gio Gonzalez had turned a corner. The lefty starter was perhaps the most consistent member in the Nationals' rotation, quietly stringing together quality starts over a month-and-a-half stretch. From June 21 to August 11, he sported a 5-0 record with a 1.48 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.

But much like the rest of the staff in the season's second half, the title of "most reliable starter" has been tough to lock down.

Gonzalez' uneven outing in Wednesday night vs. the Padres was his third straight loss, allowing five runs (four earned) in just 4 2/3 innings. It was the second time in his last three starts that he's been unable to get through the fifth.

So did he show anything that was indicative of his recent struggles?

"Not tonight," manager Matt Williams said. "He worked through the first inning and had a little trouble. He couldn’t get through the next time around with those guys in the middle of the order."

Indeed, the Padres' big boppers gave Gonzalez trouble in the third inning. After Yunel Escobar's botched double play attempt that kept the inning alive, Matt Kemp hit a two-run double to right center field and Justin Upton launched a two-run home run to left center to put the Nats down 4-0 and in chase mode the rest of the game.

"The double was a good pitch and the ball was hit to right field," Gonzalez said of the Padres' rally. "So I think the [pitch] was down and away where I wanted it to be. Good hitter. Tip your cap."

And much like Williams, Gonzalez didn't seem to view his night as the continuation of a concerning trend.

"Nothing [troubled me out there]," he said. "Not really anything. I was pounding the strike zone. I was getting ahead of the hitters. Maybe walked two guys. Other than that, typical start."

That may be, but the Padres had the first batter reach base in four of the five innings Gonzalez worked, making him working from the stretch before he could establish a rhythm. That's not a new problem, either. This season, leadoff men are hitting .326 against him -- highest among Nats pitchers with at least 15 starts.

"It’s traffic for the pitcher out of the stretch," Williams said. "The rhythm is certainly different. We talk about it with regard to our offense all the time. It just makes it more difficult. It puts pressure on."

Pressure might be the right word to use for an up-and-down rotation that was expected to be the game's best before the season started. Since the All-Star break, Nats starters are 12-17 with an ordinary 4.28 ERA -- 14th best in the majors. Meanwhile, the surging Mets own the fourth-best ERA since the break at 3.30.

Gonzalez may have had an off night, as he and Williams suggested. But given the widening gap between the two clubs in the NL East race, every hiccup becomes increasingly costly each night one occurs.

Quick Links

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

daniel_murphy.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

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.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

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. 

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: