Looking to pull a longman out of his bullpen to make a start on Sunday, Davey Johnson needed Gio Gonzalez to pitch deep into Thursday’s game against the Marlins.
A rain delay the night before forced Johnson to use five different relief pitchers, and the previous night he needed four out of the bullpen to patch together a win. If a starter was going to go the distance and save the rest of the staff, this was the night.
Johnson got his wish as Gonzalez pushed through a sluggish start to last seven scoreless innings and take home the win. He battled a high pitch count early to deliver just what his manager had ordered.
“I tell ya, when that game started, the way Gio was going the first couple innings again, I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, if I can get five out of him,’” Johnson said.
“But he ended up pitching a great ballgame. He was outstanding. Just when we needed it."
“If you were to tell me I was going seven, I would have laughed in your face in the second inning,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez threw 43 pitches through the first two innings, but settled down after an 11-pitch third. He went into the clubhouse to change his shirt in the bottom of the second, as it was soaked from the humidity. In there and waiting for him was closer Rafael Soriano who had some veteran advice.
“I had Soriano standing right there at the entrance,” Gonzalez said. “It was more like a mechanical change, mechanical talk.”
“He was telling me ‘stay back, your arm is dropping way too low and you’re trying to rush.’ That meant a lot, especially when he’s out there watching me."
After the pep talk Gonzalez retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced, the lone baserunner Jake Marisnick with a fourth inning single. Gio finished with eight strikeouts, three walks and just three hits allowed.
As Gonzalez settled in, his teammates followed suit. Bryce Harper smacked a two-run homer in the fourth to create some breathing room and by then Gonzalez had found his groove.
“Then those two runs came in the fourth and after that it was the Nats that I remember,” he said. “It’s nice when they score you nine, it takes a lot of weight off your shoulders.”
9-0 was the final score as Gonzalez earned his first victory since July 10. The Nationals have now won 14 of their last 19, but with little help from Gio, at least up until this point.
Gonzalez had struggled over his previous five outings with a 7.66 ERA through 24 2/3 innings. This time he was effective and helped his team out just when they needed it.
“That was big,” Johnson said. “He’s been struggling but he hasn’t brought it back together. Tonight he was outstanding. We were very short and I was hoping for a laugher and we got one.”