A shaky start for the Washington Nationals pitcher does not bode well for the upcoming playoff series with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
With the Nats in a position to celebrate Friday night, Gonzalez delivered a performance worthy of ending a season rather than extending one. In their 6-5 extra-inning loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, he could not hold a three-run lead early and made it through five innings before an endless parade of bullpen pitchers took over.
On the scoresheet, it goes down as a no decision. Five hits, three earned runs and walks with five strikeouts. A perfect symmetry of mediocrity.
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Inside the head of every Washington Nationals fan hoping for a long and red October, alarm bells are now ringing in their ears. For a potential Game 3 in two weeks at Dodger Stadium, the future is frightening.
Gonzalez showed no command of his pitches. In total, 34 of his 91 missed the strike zone. Not bad on its own but, when he found the strike zone, pitches were flat and soft. Yeah, he struck out five, but at no point could you sit there and say he would win the game.
Walks in the fourth and fifth inning brought out pitching coach Mike Maddux to console him. If you have to hold someone’s hand so openly this late in the season, you have a problem.
The Nationals have a problem. With Stephen Strasburg likely not pitching the National League Divisional Series, they are in a position where they will have to start Gonzalez in the playoffs and hope for the best. He is a veteran pitcher who has a 20-win season under his belt, you would think he is the perfect pitcher to give you a playoff edge.
Gonzalez’s body language comes across as indifferent. His eyes reflect a deer that spotted an Audi’s headlights. For someone who has been there and done that, he does not trust his stuff. For the Nationals, they have to trust him.
On paper, his numbers are better than last year. The WHIP is 1.307 and the H/9 dropped from 9.3 to 8.9. Yet he seems so lifeless out there. When the Atlanta Braves beat him last weekend, it was death by a thousand paper cuts. A blooper here and a bleeder there.
Friday was different. Handed a three run lead, Gonzalez immediately struggled. Right away the Pirates scored two in the second inning and tied the game in the third. Instead of building on the momentum from the all-around team performance Wednesday night in Miami, his inability to hold a lead killed it.
Momentum and bullpen usage are crucial to winning championships. With Joe Ross probably starting Game 4, Washington can ill afford a game where the bullpen will need to retire 12-15 outs to survive more than once. After Gonzalez’s night Friday, they will defy the odds and plan on two now just to advance.