As part of Davey Johnson’s confidence-burnishing campaign with his new team, he met with the Nationals’ starting pitchers Friday afternoon and let them know what to expect: when they pitch, the game will be his to lose.
“I told all the other starters they’re going to get a little longer leash,” Johnson said. “When they do something like that, I go the extra yard for them. I want them to know that. I want to give them an opportunity to win.”
Some starters believed Jim Riggleman sometimes had a quick hook, which given the success of the Nationals’ bullpen the past two seasons may or may not be fair – who’s to say you can’t show confidence in a reliever? But Johnson is going to give starters a chance to control their own game.
“That’s all we want,” said Tom Gorzelanny, who Friday night allowed no earned runs on six hits and a walk while striking out eight. “We want to go deep in the game. The five of us are not going to ask to be taken out. We’re going to want to go out there, and figure out a way to win.”
“That makes us all better pitchers,” Gorzelanny added. “Coming back late in the game, getting in a jam, fighting back, it’s going to help us down the road. It’s going help us further down the season and further in my career. It’s only a good thing for us.”
Nationals starters lately have proved they deserve to stay out there. In the past nine games, Nationals starters have allowed zero or one earned run in seven starts. Gorzelanny stretched a streak of innings without an earned run by Nationals starters to 15. After his start, all five members of the Nationals’ starting rotation possess an ERA less than 4.00 - Gorzelanny, at 3.77, has the highest of them all.
Nationals starters as a whole have a 3.58 ERA. But if you remove the 15 earned runs Yunesky Maya allowed in 19 2/3 innings over four starts, the five starters who form the rotation have a collective 3.46 ERA.
Friday, Gorzelanny allowed one unearned run on six hits and a walk. His best fastball zipped at 93 mph, but he overpowered the Pirates anyway. All eight of his strikeouts came on swing-and-miss pitches, and he threw 68 of 95 pitches for strikes. He buried his slider on the corners, and he elevated his fastball to make hitters chase it once ahead in the count.
“I was putting the ball where I wanted to,” Gorzelanny said. “It was a matter of locating pitches.”
Gorzelanny’s best moment came in sixth, after Andrew McCutchen scalded a double down the third base line to lead off the inning. Gorzelanny induced a groundball to shortstop - one of eight groundouts - and McCutchen moved to third with one out. Gorzelanny threw an 82-mph slider past Lyle Overbay for strike three, moving one out away from getting out of the jam in a tie game.
After Gorzelanny fired two strikes to put Ronny Cedeno in an 0-2 hole, he received the ball back from catcher Wilson Ramos and took a deep breath, his back to third base. McCutchen, a former teammate, took several sudden, sprinting steps down the line. After a teammate alerted Gorzelanny, he turned quickly, startled, only to see McCutchen walking slowly back to third. Gorzelanny shot him a smile.
The grin was still on his face when received the sign from Ramos for the 0-2 pitch - another fastball. Gorzelanny gunned a neck-high, 93-mph heater. Cedeno swung through it, and Gorzelanny walked off the mound.
He came back out for the seventh, too. Which he should get used to.