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First-pitch strikes critical for Gonzalez

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Beanballs,Sports,Kevin Dunleavy

Gio Gonzalez threw strikes on Thursday night – 78 to be exact, on 112 pitches — keying his one-hit work over eight dominant innings in the Nats’ 8-1 victory over the Reds. Gonzalez (2-1), the Nats’ starter most susceptible to wildness, had walked 11 in 20 innings, lasting no more than six innings in any of his previous four starts. But with the lead from the third inning on, Gonzalez was able to attack.

“When he starts thinking about what he’s trying to do … that’s when he starts falling into trouble,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “Today it was just, get the ball and go. It was rock and fire. That’s what Gio needs to do … When he does that, he’s successful most times than not because his stuff is that good.”

Gonzalez cooled off one of the best offenses in baseball. Cincinnati (13-10) entered second in the National League in runs scored (114) and first in bases on balls (96). But Gonzalez set down the first 11 Reds he faced before Joey Votto got their lone hit of the night, an opposite-field home run.

“It was first-pitch strikes,” Gonzalez said. “You want to attack the strike zone quick, especially with a team like that. You don’t want to give them a chance [when] you fall behind on them and let them swing it. That’s what happened to Votto – fell behind on him.”

On his 26th birthday, Danny Espinosa gave Gonzalez a margin for error. His double to the wall in right-center in the second inning gave the Nats a 1-0 lead. It was similar to the ball Espinosa hit a day earlier which was run down by Cardinals center-fielder Shane Robinson.

“Just a big sigh of relief,” Espinosa said of the hit after entering three for his previous 28. “Maybe it was because it was my birthday.”

Espinosa later scored on a single by Denard Span. In the third inning, his two-run home run, completed a four-run outburst for a 6-1 lead.

With three hits and three RBI, Span had a big night as well, also sparked by a break. His chopper to the left side in the second inning was fielded bare-handed by shortstop Zack Cozart, whose throw was late by half a step. Espinosa came home on the two-out infield single.

“That [hit] probably felt the best,” Span said. “That’s when I finally, finally felt like we finally caught a break. I said finally like five times there. But finally it felt good.”

Kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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