WASHINGTON -- To help navigate Saturday's day-night doubleheader against the Reds, Nationals manager Dave Martinez was hoping for deep outings from his starting pitchers. The Nats' staff had been improving lately, which has coincided with their recent mini hot streak, during which they had won six of the past eight games.
But that was before left-hander Giovany Gonzalez delivered a dud in the Reds' 7-1 victory in the Game 1 on Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park. He gave up 10 hits and walked a pair as the Reds tagged him for six runs (five earned) in 3 2/3 innings.
Once one of the Nationals' biggest strengths, the inconsistency of their starting rotation has become one of their biggest hindrances this season as they try to climb back from a six-game deficit behind first-place Philadelphia in the National League East. Aside from Max Scherzer -- who is in the conversation for the NL Cy Young Award after winning it the past two seasons -- and a strong two-start stretch from Tanner Roark, it is difficult to know exactly what the rest of the Nats' rotation will provide each day.
"We gotta continue to get these guys going," Martinez said. "Tanner's pitching good. Gio's been pitching good up to today. Helly's done well. ... When the starting rotation comes out and keeps us close, that's huge. With our offense, we're going to score runs."
The Nationals were catching up from the start on Saturday, as Gonzalez struggled again with some of the same issues that have continued to plague him during this tough stretch -- falling behind in counts, issuing walks and catching too much of the middle of the plate when he does throw strikes. The Reds capitalized with a pair of homers -- a three-run big fly from Phillip Ervin and a solo shot from Brandon Dixon.
Gonzalez's season has especially highlighted the Nats' rotation woes. Through his first 12 starts of the year, he was pitching like an All-Star with a 2.27 ERA, which was eighth best in MLB. In his past nine starts entering Saturday, his 6.28 ERA was the fifth worst.
"If I knew the answer to that, it would be a different outcome," Gonzalez said. "Right now, I'm just trying to battle through whatever I'm going through and hopefully start catching my breaks and the tide will change. ... For me, it's hit or miss right now. It's just damned if you do, damned if you don't."
Wander Suero came out of the bullpen to provide 3 1/3 innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts to help minimize the damage on the bullpen, but Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani cruised with a big lead for seven innings of one-run ball.
But Gonzalez's poor outing did not give the Nationals' offense must of a chance. If they are going to make a postseason push, they are going to need him to get back on track.
A few key contributors to the Nationals' offense continued to heat up in Game 1:
• Bryce Harper went 2-for-3 with a walk. He has now recorded four straight multi-hit games, tied for the second longest streak of his career.
• Daniel Murphy went 2-for-4, and he has now hit safely in 12 of his past 14 games. He is batting .391 with three home runs during that span.
• Juan Soto scored the Nats' lone run on Ryan Zimmerman's fielder's choice in the second inning, and he also recorded a multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 for his 18th multi-hit game of the season. He has yet to go more than two consecutive games this season without recording a hit.
Jeremy Hellickson starts the nightcap of Saturday's split doubleheader against the Reds at 7:05 p.m. ET. He has had success in his career against the Reds, tallying a 1.50 ERA in four starts. Matt Harvey will take the mound for Cincinnati.