WASHINGTON -- This is becoming the norm for left-hander Giovany Gonzalez, who has developed into one of the Nationals' most consistent and reliable starters during his stellar 2017 campaign. Gonzalez carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Tuesday's 3-1 victory against the Angels, the second time he has flirted with a no-no in the past two weeks.
Even though Angels outfielder Cameron Maybin spoiled his shot at history with a two-out infield single, Gonzalez turned in another strong outing in what has been a season full of them. He kept the Angels' offense off balance and induced weak contact for six shutout innings of two-hit ball, lowering his ERA to 2.49 on the season. That gives him the third-lowest ERA in the Majors, trailing only Clayton Kershaw and teammate Max Scherzer.
The Nationals already have Scherzer at the top of their rotation, and Stephen Strasburg seems on target to return this weekend from the disabled list. And the way Gonzalez is performing, he could give them a formidable No. 3 starter in the postseason and enable their rotation to compete for the most fearsome among NL contenders.
"I don't want him starting to look ahead too much," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "But you need a left-hander to combat some of the powerful left-handed lineups that we might be facing."
Gonzalez's season renaissance comes following what was one of the worst seasons of his career in 2016, when he posted a career-high 4.57 ERA. He has turned it around and become a workhorse who consistently lasts deep into games. The veteran has lasted at least six innings in 20 of his 24 starts, and he has thrown at least five frames in each start.
Even after flirting with a no-hitter, that is what Gonzalez took pride in: the fact that he is pitching deeper into games this season.
"If I can just manage to keep going into the fifth, sixth, seventh inning, I'm just happy to see that," he said.
A big key to Gonzalez's success has been the ability to generate weak contact. On Tuesday, the Angels managed an average exit velocity of just 79.6 mph against him -- the third lowest he has allowed in a game this season. It's become a trend for Gonzalez. Of the 94 starters who have allowed a minimum of 300 balls in play, he has surrendered the fifth-lowest exit velocity at 85 mph, a huge improvement from the 87.7 mph last season.
And hitters are batting just .209 against him this season, which is good for the fifth-lowest batting average against this season among starters.
"He pitched his butt off tonight," Maybin said. "You've got to tip your hat. That's what it's about. It's about more than just throwing the ball. It's about pitching, and he did a great job. Changes speed, continuing to get ahead. When guys get ahead, it makes for tough at-bats. Just watching him do his thing out there, it wasn't fun to be on the other end. He did a great job of just pitching."