Nats' Gonzalez struggles in playoff opener

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Beanballs,Sports,Brian McNally

It was the biggest concern for Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez entering his first career postseason start. Could he keep his nerves under control and fight off the control problems that have cropped up throughout his career? He was able to do so through most of the regular season as Gonzalez finished 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA.

But Gonzalez fell apart in Game 1 of a National League Division Series with the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon. He walked a season-high seven batters at the worst possible time and wild-pitched home a run, too. St. Louis only managed one hit off Gonzalez, but it hardly mattered when he issued so many free passes. He was lucky to escape with just two runs scored against after five innings of work. In the end it didn’t matter as his team rallied for a 3-2 victory thanks to Tyler Moore’s pinch-hit, two-run single in the eighth inning. The Nats lead the series 1-0.

“Sometimes with Gio you’ve just got to get in his face and say ‘Hey, throw the ball over the plate!’ ” Washington pitching coach Steve McCatty said on TBS during the game. “That didn’t work at first, but he had a better inning after that.”

Gonzalez left after the fifth. He walked seven and struck out five on 110 pitches. Only 59 of those pitches went for strikes. The curve ball was an issue all night. He threw 19 of them, and 14 of those were balls. The Cardinals just didn’t have to worry about chasing them. Not that Gonzalez was throwing his two-seam fastball for strikes, either. Of 22 of those pitches, 12 were called balls. Gonzalez threw primarily four-seam fastballs, but even those went for strikes just 39 times out of 63 (62 percent).

Gonzalez hadn’t pitched since Sept. 27. Washington skipped his scheduled final start of the season, which was going to be Tuesday against the Phillies. But they clinched the National League East title the day before and saw no need to push him.

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner