Lasting Lessons

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The last time Gio Gonzalez had faced the Cardinals before Friday night was on March 22 of this year, in a Spring Training affair in Jupiter, Florida. The lefty had been Washington’s most consistent starter in the Spring to that point, but on that afternoon, he was touched up for his worst start of camp and the Nationals were shut out, 9-0, extending a stretch of nine games without a Grapefruit League win. Afterwards, Gonzalez put the outing in the proper perspective, and it turns out, so did we. Here is the excerpt of his quote and our follow-up thought following that game.

“You’re going to have some of those days,” he said. “The great part about today was that it was Spring Training.”

And if a rough outing in March can translate into a smooth start in August or September against the defending champs, well, the Nationals will certainly take that trade-off.

Gio gets the royal treatment after his first career shutout Friday night.

Well, it was August, but only by a day. Gonzalez turned in arguably the best start of his life Friday night, allowing just five hits while fanning eight Cardinals batters in his first career shutout. The Nationals offense took care of the rest, breaking the double-digit run barrier for the seventh time this season, but it was Gonzalez’s monster, 119-pitch effort that defined the victory. Afterwards, he was his usual, humble self, deflecting credit to teammates for excellent offensive support, but also for a stellar defensive effort –in which the Nationals turned three double plays and made a number of other athletic plays in the field – which was largely overlooked.

That got us thinking: remember that five-game losing streak the Nationals endured earlier this week? It seems as distant a memory as that nine-game winless streak in the Spring, certainly much more than just three days since Washington snapped out of its funk. In that span, the team has put together three consecutive complete performances, outscoring opponents by a grand total of 26-5 in a trio of victories. And while the offense has broken through in a big way to key that turnaround, the pitching has truly stood out.

The offense has found its rhythm as well as we enter September.

It is only fitting that as the Nationals enter September and their final 30-game stretch of the regular season, it is once again their starting pitching leading them to the finish line, just as it did when the season began. Both Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, the two offseason acquisitions brought in to bolster a staff already flush with homegrown talent, made their impacts felt immediately in their first home starts in April. Gonzalez, handed the ball for the home opener, responded with 7.0 innings of two-hit, shutout ball. Two days later, Jackson delivered a complete game masterpiece, allowing just a run and two hits. Don’t forget that those two performances were delivered against the only team in baseball with a better record than the Nationals, the Cincinnati Reds.

And so, here we are again with Jackson throwing eight spectacular innings on Thursday night, only to have Gio one-up him with a five-hit shutout just 24 hours later, both against the defending World Series Champions.

With the Braves squandering a ninth-inning lead late Friday night in an extra-inning loss to widen the NL East gap to six and a half games, the Nationals have nine more chances this homestand to continue to build on their momentum in the season’s final month.

Jordan Zimmermann, it’s your turn.

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