MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers jumped on Gio Gonzalez for six runs in the first three innings Saturday, and the Nationals' comeback fell just short as Milwaukee handed Washington its seventh consecutive loss, 6-5, on Negro League Tribute Day at Miller Park.
Chris Carter opened the scoring with a three-run homer in the first inning and the Brewers tacked on one run in the second and two more in the third off Gonzalez, whose struggles continued as he gave up all six runs on six hits in just three innings.
"We did another good job again against another quality starting pitcher," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "We continue to do that, we continue to do a nice job against starters particularly early in the game."
Milwaukee starter Matt Garza allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks in six innings, but picked up his first win in his third start since returning from the 60-day DL. Jeremy Jeffress worked through the heart of the Nats' order, earning his 21st save as the Brewers clinched a series win and will go for a three-game sweep Sunday.
"That inning with [Bryce] Harper, [Daniel] Murphy and [Wilson] Ramos, that's probably one of the toughest innings in baseball right now, the way those guys are swinging it," Counsell said.
Trailing, 6-1, after three, the Nationals chipped away with two runs in the fourth and individual tallies in the sixth and seventh. They placed the go-ahead run on base in the seventh and the tying run in the eighth, but could not capitalize.
"We are playing good enough to win games," Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth said. "You go through these stretches from time to time. You try to minimize the damage. It's tough right now for us. We have to find a way to win [Sunday] and head home and get hot. It's too early in the season to get hung up on this too much, but we need to turn it around."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED President Carter: Carter hit his Major League-leading 14th home run at home with two outs in the first to put the Brewers out front, 3-0. Gonzalez left a 3-1 changeup up in the zone, and Carter crushed it 106 mph off the bat and 403 feet, according to Statcast™, into the left-field bleachers, for his team-leading 19th homer. Jonathan Villar and Aaron Hill, who led off the inning with consecutive singles, scored on the blast.
"That's why he's hitting in the middle of the order, to provide that instant offense," Counsell said. "He had a good at-bat, got into a hitter's count and took advantage of a changeup up in the zone." More >
Nats give themselves up: Washington matched a season high with three sacrifice flies. The runs were driven in by Clint Robinson, Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman. The Nats also had three against the Reds on June 14.
Gio continues to have problems: Gonzalez is on a seven-game winless streak. During that stretch, he is 0-6 with a 8.44 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings. Gonzalez's problems seem to start in the early innings and Saturday's game was no different. He was behind the 8-ball in the first after allowing the three-run homer by Carter.
"I have to do a better job of helping out our bullpen," Gonzalez said. That's a crappy job on my part. It's unfortunate the way it's going." More >
Insurance policy: Getting another start in right field with a left-hander on the mound, the Brewers' Hernan Perez came through in the third. Perez sliced a fastball on the outer half down the right-field line for a ground-rule double that scored Ryan Braun and put Milwaukee up, 5-1. On a slow roller by the next batter, Scooter Gennett, Carter beat Murphy's throw home for the Crew's final run.
"It's great scoring early in the game against those pitchers who are great, have been great in their careers," Perez said. "It's important for us now. We have a plan, we're always going to make them work and not make it easy for them."
"My mother told me there would be days like this, but I haven't had one in a long time. So it's time for us to tighten our belt and come together. [Losing streaks] like this make you come together as a unit. Someday you will look back on it and see that it is something that unified us. It's time to circle the wagons and pull for each other." -- Washington manager Dusty Baker
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
When Gonzalez hit Braun and Carter in the third, it was the first time all season that two Brewers were hit by a pitch in the same frame. Milwaukee entered the day having only been hit 11 times, the lowest total in the Majors. It was also Gonzalez's second time hitting two batters in one inning, with the other occurrence coming Sept. 8, 2008.
Espinosa bookended his day at the plate with two walks and drove in runs with a sac bunt and sac fly during his two other plate appearances. He is only the 18th player since at least 1913 to make four plate appearances and drive in two runs without an at-bat. He's just the third player to accomplish the feat since 2000. More >
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Braun was called out at home plate on a throw from Bryce Harper to end the seventh, but Counsell called for a challenge. After the review, the call that Braun did not slide under catcher Wilson Ramos' tag was confirmed. Washington threw out two Brewers at the plate, with the other assist coming from Werth to nab Villar to end the second.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: With Stephen Strasburg (back) scratched, it means Tanner Roark will start Sunday against the Brewers at 2:10 p.m. ET. Because of the off-day Thursday, Roark is able to take his turn. He last pitched Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers. More >
Brewers: Jimmy Nelson takes the mound in Sunday's series finale at 1:10 p.m. CT as Milwaukee goes for a three-game sweep. Despite leading the Brewers in quality starts, he does not have one since May 29 and owns a 7.50 ERA over his past four starts.