For those thinking big picture, perhaps the most important inning of Gio Gonzalez's dominant performance against the Cubs is the one he didn't pitch.
Making his fourth start since returning from the disabled list, Gonzalez pitched eight scoreless innings, gaining momentum as the outing progressed. He allowed only four hits with seven strikeouts and one walk. Chicago only had a single runner reach scoring position all day on Saturday afternoon before the crowd of 38, 473 including Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The pitch count read 109 after the top of the eighth. Gonzalez claimed his gauge showed more gas in the tank. This marked his third straight game without allowing a run, but he didn't go the distance - or past the seventh - in either of those appearances. Gonzalez wanted to complete the job, but his manager took the cautious approach.
Of course, that call is much easier when the offense scores 13 runs.
"(Gio) wanted to go out for the ninth. I didn't want to push him, certainly at (109)," Williams said following the 13-0 rout over the Cubs, Washington's sixth victory in seven games. "But the fact that he can go (109) and use all his pitches is a great sign."
Gonzalez (6-4) felt the same .
"It says you still got something in the tank," he said about his desire to pitch the final inning.
Earlier on, it appeared Gonzalez might not get even past the middle portion of the game. He needed 53 pitches to get through the first three innings. Then the Nats offense made the game a laugher and Gonzalez went into attack mode, extending his scoreless innings streak to 22.
Already leading 1-0, Washington scored six runs in the third, highlighted by run-scoring doubles from Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman.
Facing spot starter Carlos Villanueva and the Cubs short-handed bullpen, the Nationals ultimately set season-highs with runs scored and hits (19. They also set a franchise-record with eight doubles, including three by Rendon.
Villanueva (4-6) stepped in Saturday after the Cubs traded scheduled starter Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A's on Friday.
"I didn't know who we were facing to begin with," Rendon admitted. "I just show up."
Zimmerman finished with four hits and three RBIs. Werth also had three hits including two doubles.
"It's nice when you get seven runs right off the bat," said Gonzalez, who chatted up RGIII in the Nats locker room after the win. "You start throwing to your comfort zone right after that. You attack the strike zone and keep going."
The offense kept going. Every starter had at least one hit. That included Gonzalez, who singled and scored during the four-run seventh. The length of that frame may have hurt his chances for a complete game as much as anything.
"He's reported no problems with his shoulders," Williams said. "That last inning took him a little while to loosen up...He feels good, all of his pitches are working for him, so it's very positive."
Of those 109 pitches, 76 went for strikes. Along with the game called by catcher Wilson Ramos, Gonzalez credited his effective change-up for his recent success.
"It helps (hitters) stay off the fastball," he said. "You don't want to be a pattern pitcher (with) just two pitches, fastball, curveball."
Williams cited Gonzalez's entire breaking pitch repertoire postgame.
"If he gets in a jam he can throw (curve or change-up), can use either one of them as a strikeout pitch which we saw today."
The Cubs did have three singles in the second inning, but didn't score as Ramos muted the threat by throwing out Starlin Castro attempting to steal second base. Washington's offense took over from there.
though the batters know better than to ignore the work done by their starter.
"I think it's easy to look past Gio just because we got 13 runs," Rendon said. "If you look on the other side, they didn't score any runs. We could have scored one run and still won the game."
If Gonzalez can effectively work deep into games, the Nationals should win many more games going forward.