BALTIMORE -- The Nationals continued a steady climb back from their slow start to the season with Monday afternoon's 6-0 victory over the Orioles, their sixth win in seven games. The win pulled the Nationals to a season-high eight games over .500 and helped moved them to a half-game behind
BALTIMORE -- The Nationals continued a steady climb back from their slow start to the season with Monday afternoon's 6-0 victory over the Orioles, their sixth win in seven games. The win pulled the Nationals to a season-high eight games over .500 and helped moved them to a half-game behind first-place Atlanta in the National League East and a half-game ahead of Philadelphia.
"I really just think we're trying to battle every game," third baseman Anthony Rendon said. "We didn't get off to the best of starts, so just trying to get into a rhythm as we get into the heart of the season."
This series could be a chance for the Nationals to make up ground in the division. Washington has not won a season series against their area rivals since 2007, but Baltimore is the third consecutive last-place team on its schedule. Left-hander Giovany Gonzalez completed his best performance of the season, tossing 7 2/3 shutout innings with three strikeouts, but most importantly a few double-play grounders to weave his way out of trouble.
Gonzalez walked off the mound to a huge ovation after his latest gem, which lowered his ERA to 2.10, the second lowest ERA among National League starting pitchers. He has yet to surrender more than three runs in any of his first 11 starts this season.
"He was outstanding," manager Dave Martinez said. "He kept the balls down, threw strikes. He was really good. For me, that was the best he's pitched all year."
Rendon got the offense started with a three-run homer against right-hander Alex Cobb in the third inning, his second straight game with a home run. He even added a ground-rule double in the eighth and scored on a run-scoring single from Matt Adams. The Nats rallied for three runs on five hits in the eighth against lefty Richard Bleier to extend their lead and put the game out of reach.
And now the Nationals are clicking and knocking on the door of the division lead.
"It feels like we play great competitive baseball everywhere we go," Gonzalez said. "If it stands out on the road, it just goes to show that we like to play wherever we go."
Juan Soto collected another pair of hits Monday, his third multihit game of this young season. He has hit safely in five of his seven starts since being promoted to the Majors and is batting .320 in his first eight games.
"I think just his pitch recognition, I think that's the biggest part -- the fact that he's not swinging at too many balls outside the zone," Rendon said. "He's taking close pitches. He knows where the ball is and where the plate is -- so that's pretty impressive."
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Bryce Harper came down with a leaping grab at the wall to close out the fifth inning and rob Andrew Susac of at least extra bases. Susac put a charge into a 2-2 pitch from Gonzalez that appeared headed to clear the fence in right field or at least bounce off the wall for a double. But Harper timed his jump perfectly to make the grab, much to the approval of Gonzalez, who walked off the mound with his hands raised.
Harper even had some fun with the crowd after the play, holding the ball in his hand in right field and fake tossing it to the stands before he pulled it back and brought it all the way back to the fans near the Nationals' dugout before throwing it toward the upper deck.
Jeremy Hellickson returns to Baltimore to face his former team when the Nationals and Orioles match up for the middle game of the Battle of the Beltways, Tuesday night at Camden Yards. Hellickson spent the second half of last season with the O's after being acquired prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Dylan Bundy will start for the Orioles; first pitch is at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.