Gio paves way as Nats earn split with Braves
WASHINGTON -- As reporters approached Giovany Gonzalez at his locker in the Nationals' clubhouse after their 6-3 win over the Braves on Thursday afternoon, "Chanel," by Slim Jxmmi, Swae Lee and Rae Sremmurd blared from tall black speakers. For the first time since July 6, the Nats could play their postgame playlist to celebrate a win after a Gonzalez outing.
"It's really good when you know the music's playing on your day you're pitching," Gonzalez said.
About three hours before Gonzalez walked off the mound to an ovation, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said he wanted Gonzalez, who's struggled since the start of June, just to limit damage and let the offense handle the rest. Instead, Gonzalez dazzled with one of his best recent outings, allowing one run over seven innings in his first win since May 28. He also added a hit and a run at the plate.
The offense took advantage of Gonzalez's performance to split the four-game series with the Braves at Nationals Park. Washington, which faces winning teams in three of its next four series, still sits 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Phillies and 4 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East.
"I was just happy we got to finally high-five my teammates for the first time in a while," Gonzalez said. "So for me, it was not the pressure, but it was going out there and doing what I can do. … Today it finally showed."
In 11 starts since his previous win, Gonzalez was 0-6 with a 6.37 ERA, a span in which the Nationals needed him the most with Stephen Strasburg on the disabled list.
While Tanner Roark recovered from his slump between June and July, Max Scherzer stayed in contention for his third consecutive NL Cy Young Award and Jeremy Hellickson gave the Nats chances to win, Gonzalez's issues persisted.
Those problems seemed to continue Thursday when Nick Markakis took Gonzalez deep to begin the second inning, but after issuing a single and a walk, Gonzalez got out of the frame.
Markakis almost drove in Freddie Freeman in the third inning, but Adam Eaton threw out Freeman at home plate with a 92.5 mph missile. Gonzalez, who pitched to a 2.96 ERA last season, only permitted one more hit.
Gonzalez experienced some miscommunication with backup catchers Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino earlier this season, but the left-hander said Matt Wieters powered his improvement.
"I have better command when I don't think -- when I don't have to think," Gonzalez said. "That's why I credit the big guy behind the plate. He did all the work for me."
The Nationals have featured one of the NL's best offenses since the All-Star break, so Martinez is confident in his offense if it's supported by strong pitching. For the second time this series, Atlanta's starter exited at the end of the second inning, as Anibal Sanchez left with a left calf contusion.
Washington took advantage of rookie Wes Parsons in the third inning. After the Nationals loaded the bases, Juan Soto walked and Anthony Rendon hit a sacrifice fly, providing the Nats with a 2-1 lead.
Michael A. Taylor, who replaced Bryce Harper (swollen right shin) in the lineup, ripped his first homer since June 2 in the fourth inning. Daniel Murphy's double in the sixth inning scored Rendon.
Justin Miller, serving as a setup man with Ryan Madson as the interim closer, gave up a homer to Ronald Acuna Jr. in the eighth, but the Nationals responded with two runs in the home half behind RBIs from Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds.
"We want to win every series from here on out," Wieters said. "Anytime we're playing really anybody from here on out, we're going to need to play like we need it -- and especially a team that's ahead of us in the standings."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Taylor dazzles with grab: With Markakis at first base in the sixth inning and two outs, Kurt Suzuki, who entered Thursday 6-for-13 with two homers in his career off Gonzalez, stepped to the plate. Suzuki sent Gonzalez's first pitch toward center field, but Taylor ran toward the infield to make a diving catch.
Taylor's grab was a 4-star catch with a 46-percent catch probability, according to Statcast™. Taylor covered 78 feet in 4.5 seconds and posted a 30.4 feet/second sprint speed, which Statcast™ considers elite.
"Those are a little tough to read," Taylor said. "You see the big swing and then off the end you don't really know how well he hit it. It didn't sound the greatest, so I knew it was going to be in front. You don't want it to coast off the bat. I just kind of dived in front."
Zimmerman, who returned from a right oblique strain July 20, is hitting .400 (14-for-35) with 10 RBIs over his past 10 games.
HE SAID IT
"I've said this before, he's a Gold Glover" -- Martinez, on Taylor
The Nationals will begin a three-game series at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, who lead the NL Central, on Friday at 2:20 p.m. ET. Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound after allowing two runs over 5 2/3 innings in a win over the Reds on Saturday. The right-hander, who will be opposed by Kyle Hendricks, is 1-1 with a 7.59 ERA in two career starts against the Cubs.