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NATIONALS: Gio Gonzalez Struggles Through Worst Start In Loss

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

WASHINGTON – The visit to the mound by pitching coach Steve McCatty in the top of the third inning was of little consequence to Gio Gonzalez. The Washington Nationals’ top lefthander had already allowed three runs in the first two innings, and now, with nobody out, runners on first and second and David Wright, who homered in his last two at-bats, stepping to the plate for the New York Mets, Gonzalez knew he could use a breather.

An inning later, when manager Davey Johnson stepped out of the dugout and began a slow walk to the mound, Gonzalez was irritated.

“He gave me that evil stare, like, what am I doing out there?” Johnson said.

Johnson could have asked the same. The Mets had already scored five runs in 3 1/3 innings, and Gonzalez had thrown an unwieldy 68 pitches – just over half for strikes.

The damage was already done. Gonzalez angrily stuffed the ball into Johnson’s right hand and plodded off the field, and the Mets ended their six-game losing streak at Nationals Park on Thursday, defeating the Nationals 9-5 in the finale of a three-game series.

“I’m not going to let him stay out there just to go save my bullpen. I’m going to save him,” Johnson said. “It’s more about just not having him throw 20 or 30 more pitches in a losing cause. What’s the use?”

With that, the matchup between two pitchers tied for the major league lead with 12 wins – Gonzalez and the Mets’ R.A. Dickey – came to an unfulfilling end. Dickey, the journeyman knuckleballer, lasted 7 1/3 innings and threw 111 pitches to improve to 13-1; Gonzalez, on the other side, continued his downward slide.

“All I was trying to is just trying to help out the team,” Gonzalez said. “Any way possible to go out there and give them a couple good innings, try to keep us in there as much as possible to win the game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that job. But next time. Keep fighting, keep going.”

Gonzalez went 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA and 79 strikeouts over his first 10 starts, but is just 5-4 with a 4.93 ERA with 50 strikeouts in the nine starts since.

He has also given up five home runs in his last five starts, including two to the Mets on Thursday – a two-run shot to left center by Wright in the first inning, then a leadoff drive by Ike Davis in the second. Wright later tagged Craig Stammen with a three-run homer in the fourth, pushing his season total to 14 and marking his first career multi-home run game.

The Nationals (53-37) appeared as though they’d be able to match the Mets early, with Ryan Zimmerman hitting his 11th home run to left center field in the first. The bats went quiet, though, until the sixth, at which point New York (47-45) already held a 9-1 lead.

Johnson began rotating in the bench, which starting putting runs together. Mark DeRosa, on in the sixth to replace Zimmerman at third base, finished 2-for-3 with a double and two runs. Tyler Moore, part of a double switch in the seventh, had a pair of singles. The Nationals nearly even batted around in the eighth, first forcing Dickey from the game and jumping on three Mets relievers, and scored two runs to make it 9-4 before tacking on one more in the ninth.

“We fought back even without our best guys out there, which is a good sign,” said Ian Desmond, who pinch hit in the eighth and stayed in the game. “I don’t know how many total pitchers they used, but for them to do that they obviously respect us enough to realize that we’re never out of the game and that’s a great sign.”

Stammen entered in relief of Gonzalez and matched the starter with 3 1/3 innings – a season-high. He allowed five hits and three earned runs before Henry Rodriguez and Drew Storen, making his season debut after having surgery on his right elbow in April, finished the game.

The loss leaves the Nationals 3.5 games ahead of Atlanta in the National League East, with the Braves arriving for four games beginning today.

“I look at things, it’s not always just a complete bad day,” Johnson said. “There’s really a lot of good things that happened there that I was really proud to see.”


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