BALTIMORE — It got lost in the shuffle after the Nationals' bullpen gave up the tying and winning runs late, but Gio Gonzalez turned in another strong effort Friday night at Camden Yards, offering more encouragement that the left-hander has turned a corner.
Gonzalez allowed one run over six innings, departing with the Nationals leading and thus in line for his third straight win. He didn't get it, but he did provide more reason to believe he is on the right track after an up-and-down first half of the season.
Gonzalez has now been credited with five quality starts in six outings and has allowed just two runs over his last 20 innings, bringing his ERA under 4.00 for the first time since early May.
And, once again, Gonzalez was paired with Jose Lobaton. The two worked together for the ninth time in the left-hander's last 10 starts — including the rain-shortened game in Philadelphia — and the difference has been tangible. Gonzalez's ERA when Lobaton catches is now 2.94. When Wilson Ramos is behind the plate, that number jumps to 5.12.
"He is helping me out with pitches low in the zone," Gonzalez said. "Loby and I are in sync right now. He's calling a great game, and I'm just throwing it where he wants it."
Gonzalez was successful Friday night despite an inconsistent curveball. He made up for it with an effective changeup that he threw to right-handers and led to a couple of his five strikeouts.
"Lots of curveballs," manager Matt Williams said. "Didn't really have the feel for it as much. So he went to the changeup a little bit more. He got us into the seventh."
Gonzalez did get the Nationals into the seventh inning, though it may have surprised some to see him take the mound again after he finished the bottom of the sixth with his pitch count at 100. Williams, though, wanted him to face only one batter: Jimmy Paredes, a far less-productive hitter vs. lefties than righties.
The only problem: Gonzalez walked Paredes on six pitches, ending his night and forcing Aaron Barrett to enter the game with a man on base.
"I was a little flat at the end," the lefty said. "In my mind, I was thinking: 'Alright, let's keep pounding that strike zone.' Obviously, I was up and away, I just missing out on my pitches. I had a nice curveball that was down, and all of sudden I just couldn't find it after that. Loby worked his tail off to give me a nice strike zone. It sucks that's how I finish that inning, with a walk."
Also disappointing was the manner in which the game ended, with Gonzalez stuck with a no-decision after a strong performance. He still stood up for his teammates from the bullpen at the end of a frustrating night.
"Love them to death," he said. "I wouldn't change anything about it. These guys bust their tail for us. They've gotten me out of big situations. What Aaron Barrett did, he got me out of that inning. Coming back, he looks great. These guys compete. It's not like they want to go out there and lose this game. My heart's out to them. They're fighting. They're doing their job. It was just a tough loss."