But the Nationals put two men on base with two outs and the pitcher’s spot up in the lineup. Johnson could not resist the chance to add on runs to the Nationals’ 5-1 lead. He pulled Gonzalez in the middle of his two-hit, no-earned-run masterwork after just 87 pitches. “I felt bad,” Johnson said.
Johnson may have intended to send Gonzalez out, but he has been very protective of his pitching staff this year. The only Nationals starter to throw more than seven innings in a start this year is Edwin Jackson, and he’s only done it three times. Jackson also has the Nationals’ only complete game of the season, which came all the way back on April 14.
Before the all-star break, Johnson said he planned to “loosen the reins” on his starters once the season reached the second half. But he has continued to conserve them. Even though Gonzalez reached 200 innings for two straight seasons in Oakland, he has yet to pitch past seven innings this season. Right now, at 118 innings through 96 games, Gonzalez is on pace to throw 199 innings.
Despite leading the majors with a 3.17 ERA even before Gonzalez’s outing, the Nationals’ rotation ranked 20th with 564 innings. The Nationals only have one starter ranked in the top 20 in innings pitched, Zimmermann at 128 1/3.
Zimmermann pitched 161 1 / 3 innings last year, his first full season after Tommy John surgery, before the Nationals shut him down. Zimmermann is on pace to throw 216 innings this year, a jump of 54 2/3 innings in one year.
The potential for a substantially increased workload could explain Johnson’s handling of Zimmermann. Johnson removed Zimmermann on Monday night after a relatively light workload. “I don’t want to get into specifics for why I do things,” Johnson said afterward. “But it was the best thing for him and the best thing for the ballclub that he departed after six.”
The Nationals ranked seventh as a team in relief innings entering Tuesday night, but Johnson has managed to spread the workload through the bullpen. Tyler Clippard is the only National who lands in the top 20 in appearances, with 45. Craig Stammen, who’s had the past four days off, is the only overworked reliever — his 54 innings rank second in the majors.
Clippard has thrown 44 1/3 innings, 10 fewer than he had at this point last year. Clippard has actually appeared in the same number of games, 45, as last season. But Johnson has been much less willing to extend Clippard past an inning per outing.
The Nationals, up 4 ½ games on the Braves in the National League East, look like a team that will be playing meaningful games deep into the fall. And Johnson seems to be preparing his pitching staff for the possibility.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 6, Rochester 1: Eury Perez went 1 for 1 and left with an injury. Jayson Werth 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against former National Shairon Martis. Chad Tracy was in the lineup originally but did not play. Brett Carroll went 1 for 3 with a home run.
New Hampshire 7, Harrisburg 3: Brian Goodwin went 2 for 5 with a home run. Destin Hood went 2 for 4 with a double. Ryan Perry allowed three earned runs in five innings on five hits and one walk, striking out five.
Potomac 10, Lynchburg 1: Michael Taylor went 4 for 5 with a double. He is 15 for his last 22. Jason Martinson went 1 for 4 with a three-run homer. He leads all of the minors with 94 RBIs. Matt Grace allowed one run in seven innings on eight hits and no walks, striking out three.
Hagerstown 6, Lakewood 2: Justin Miller went 3 for 4 with a home run. Angelberth Montilla went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk.
Auburn 9, Jamestown 4: Brett Mooneyham allowed three runs in five innings on seven hits and two walks, striking out two. Wander Ramos went 2 for 5 with a home run. Khayyan Norfork went 2 for 4 with a double. Craig Manuel went 2 for 3 with a walk.