For Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez, Monday night's 3-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers must have brought quite the sigh of relief.
The lefty entered the game with a 4.85 ERA after a recent stint on the disabled list. He later left hugging his teammates and pitching coach Steve McCatty in the dugout after throwing six scoreless innings against one of baseball's top lineups.
Gio needed a rebound start, and now the Nationals' rotation could be really falling into place.
Gonzalez turned in perhaps his best outing of the season against what could be the NL's best team. Milwaukee has the National League's best record at 47-31, had a four-game winning streak going, and boasted the fifth ranked offense.
Gonzalez had a tough test and passed it convincingly, this after a rocky few months. In his previous three starts, Gio had allowed 16 earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. The third was his first outing since returning from the disabled list with left shoulder inflammation, and it was ugly. He got rocked by the Houston Astros for four runs in five innings on five hits and three walks.
Gonzalez finally looked like he belonged again in what is arguably the game's best starting rotation. Even after his six shutout innings, Gonzalez' ERA now sits at 4.38 on the year. That's not even that bad, but when juxtaposed with his rotation-mates, it's a clear outlier.
Of the other four Nationals starters, only Stephen Strasburg has an ERA above three and his is at 3.24. Doug Fister (2.65), Tanner Roark (2.79) and Jordan Zimmermann (2.95) all rank in the top 15 among NL starters, respectively.
To have Gonzalez coming around is a great sign for the Nationals, especially given his otherwise consistent track record. In the four seasons prior to 2014, he held a 3.15 ERA across 797 2/3 total innings. Only eight other pitchers were as good from 2010-13 with at least 100 starts.
Gonzalez needed 114 pitches on Monday night as the Brewers got to him for three hits and four walks. Milwaukee had its best chance in the bottom of the third with bases loaded and two outs. Jean Segura led off with a single and reached third on a sac bunt and a stolen base. Rickie Weeks then walked to bring Ryan Braun up with runners on the corners.
Gonzalez got Braun to strike out swinging on three pitches before a walk to Jonathan Lucroy loaded the bases. Up came Carlos Gomez, who is hitting .312 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI. Gonzalez got him to promptly line out on the second pitch to end the inning and escape the jam.
Perhaps one MLB start after returning from the DL was all that Gonzalez needed, that he is back to being his old self. It worked for Fister who was batted around in his first game back from an injury, and look what he has done since.
The Nationals' rotation was already a strength, but its final piece could be slotting into place.