Nats start fast, but Gio can't hold Braves

Nats start fast, but Gio can't hold Braves

Nats start fast, but Gio can't hold Braves
WASHINGTON -- About an hour before Sunday's game against the Braves, left-hander Gio Gonzalez was named the National League Pitcher of the Month for May. But this is June, and Gonzalez did not come close to his form in May as the Nationals lost to the Braves, 3-2, at Nationals Park.

It was Gonzalez's worst outing since he made his Nationals debut on April 7 against the Cubs. He lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and throwing 91 pitches.

"I thought he had pretty good stuff, but he had no command. His command was off today," manager Davey Johnson said about Gonzalez. "He wasn't using the inside part of the plate. It's a rare occasion he doesn't have pretty good command, and today was one of them."

Said Gonzalez, "I was falling behind on guys, especially good hitters. You try not to get behind on them. When I did, they made me work. They made me go out there, throw some pitches, and [put] them in their counts."

Gonzalez was given a 2-0 lead, thanks to the rookie tandem of Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper, who hit consecutive home runs in the first inning off right-hander Tommy Hanson, who finished with seven solid innings. Lombardozzi and Harper were the first rookies in modern MLB history to hit back-to-back home runs to begin a ballgame.

"I thought the way we started the ballgame, I said, 'Boy, we are going to score some runs,' and it seemed to die after that first inning," Johnson said. "It was a tough game. They have a good ballclub. [Hanson] bounced back and pitched one heck of a ballgame."

But Gonzalez struggled throughout his outing, and the Braves were able to get to him in the third inning, when Martin Prado scored all the way from first on a double by Matt Diaz.

The Braves took the lead two innings later. After Michael Bourn reached base on an infield single and Dan Uggla was walked intentionally, Gonzalez had problems throwing strikes, walking Diaz to load the bases.

Jason Heyward followed and singled to left, scoring Bourn and Uggla to give the Braves a 3-2 lead.

"I took [Gonzalez] deep in the count the first at-bat, and with two strikes I hit it well the next at-bat. With the bases loaded, he had to come to me. I got a pitch over the plate and hit it," Heyward said.

The Nationals had a chance to at least tie the score in the top of the fifth. With one out, Harper hit a double to right-center field, but he tried to stretch it into a triple and was thrown out. Johnson said Harper made a mistake trying to take the extra base.

"I love his aggressiveness, but when you have the middle of the lineup coming up behind you, you have to make sure there is no contest," Johnson said. "He is just a young aggressive player. I like to see it, but that's a case where in that situation, I need you in scoring position."

Harper felt that the Braves had to make a perfect throw to get him, which they did.

"They got me in that situation," Harper said. "I was thinking get three. Maybe I should have backed off and got two with [Ryan] Zimmerman coming up, [Adam] LaRoche coming up, and [Mike] Morse coming up. ... There is nothing I can do about it now."

Another opportunity arose in the eighth, when Lombardozzi and Harper drew walks against Atlanta reliever Eric O'Flaherty to start the inning, but Zimmerman grounded into a double play and LaRoche flied out to left to end the threat.

Zimmerman has struggled since being activated from the disabled list on May 8, going 22-for-92 (.239) with a home run and 11 RBIs.

"I talked to him, and he feels like he is inching closer to feeling comfortable out there. He is a big guy in our lineup," Johnson said.

Zimmerman had been hampered by a right shoulder injury, but he said that is not the reason he has been in a slump.

"I just stink right now," Zimmerman said. "It's frustrating. The shoulder is fine. Everything is good. That's the beautiful thing about baseball. There are four months left. I have four months left to turn it around.

"I've been terrible, and a couple of other guys have been hurt, and we have been in first place the whole year. It's definitely not what I wanted to do to start the season, but I can't do anything about it now. I have to keep working hard, continue to grind it out. It will change. It has been like this before, and you have to stay positive and keep working."

With the loss, the Nationals dropped their record to 30-22.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.