Friday night, in the Nationals’ 7-3 win, Gio Gonzalez mixed brilliance with inefficiency. He struck a season-high nine batters. All of his victims swung at strike three, eight of them on a mid-90s fastball that he zipped over the outside corner all night. His strikeout total for the year climbed to 50 in just 41 2 / 3 innings, one behind rotation mate Stephen Strasburg for the National League lead.
But Gonzalez also issued four walks and used 115 pitches, the most of any Nationals starter this season, in only five innings. After he dominated for most of the night, Gonzalez’s best work actually came at his lowest moment, when he loaded the bases in the fifth inning.
Gonzalez allowed one run on two hits to start the inning, and then he worked himself into the bases-loaded jam by walking Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, two of the four free passes he issued. The Nationals led, 7-2, and the Reds suddenly had hope to charge back into the game.
Gonzalaz’s pitch count, ratcheted up by all those strike outs, had climbed above 100. Manager Davey Johnson had both Craig Stammen and Tom Gorzelanny warming up in the bullpen, but he planned on pulling Gonzalez only in case of disaster.
“He’s my No. 2, an all-star,” Johnson said. “I’m going to give him every opportunity in the book to go five innings and get the decision. I had confidence that he could out of it.”
Gonzalez rewarded Johnson for allowing him to earn his fourth win. He started Jay Bruce with a ball, then blew him away with a 92-mph fastball. Gonzalez induced a harmless pop up by Scott Rolen to extricate himself. In the dugout, Gonzalez went straight to Johnson.
“Thanks for staying with me,” Gonzalez said.
“Never a doubt,” Johnson replied, rolling his eyes and smiling.
Later, Gonzalez appreciated the chance to finish, to get out of a jam on his 115th pitch.
“That shows a lot from the manager,” Gonzalez said. “He believed in me, 100 percent. He gave me an opportunity to go out there and showcase what I can do. He didn’t pull me out in that situation. He just went out there and believed in me. That shows me a lot. I want to go out there and win every game for him.”
Gonzalez also expressed appreciation for his bullpen. Craig Stammen allowed one run in 2 1 / 3 innings, striking out three while pitching only a couple hours from his hometown. Ryan Mattheus and Sean Burnett cleaned up the final five outs, and Mattheus got out of a one-out, bases loaded jam in the eighth with a pop up and a big strikeout.
“The bullpen stepped it up and came through for me, big time,” Gonzalez said. “I believe in my bullpen 100 percent. I love watching these guys go out there and throw.”