Slow-starting Nats break out behind Gio in Miami

Five two-out runs in fourth help South Florida native pull away vs. Fish

Slow-starting Nats break out behind Gio in Miami

MIAMI -- Securing home-field advantage became a lot easier for the Nationals on Thursday night, when they overcame an early one-run deficit to beat the Marlins, 6-2, at Marlins Park.

Manager Matt Williams talked before the game about the importance of keeping pressure on opponents, and his team was able to do just that, taking advantage of several Miami miscues to take a four-run lead in the fourth inning. The Nats improved to a National League-best 88-64, two games ahead of the NL West-leading Dodgers.

"It's kind of ingrained in our minds now, the way we're supposed to go out there and go about our business," said Ian Desmond, who had an RBI hit and scored a run.

But the Nationals couldn't get much going early against Marlins starter Brad Hand, who was perfect for the first 3 1/3 innings. It wasn't until Anthony Rendon pulled a single through the left side of the infield with one out in the fourth that things started turning around.

With two outs, Rendon moved into scoring position on a stolen base after first baseman Jeff Baker couldn't complete a pickoff throw to second. Rendon eventually scored his 109th run of the season on Wilson Ramos' game-tying double to deep center field. Desmond drove in the go-ahead run on a ground-ball single to right field that Reed Johnson couldn't handle.

With runners on the corners, Asdrubal Cabrera added a two-out RBI hit of his own, and he ended up scoring on a two-run single by Kevin Frandsen, who started in place of Adam LaRoche for the second straight game. But unlike Wednesday, when Frandsen was hitless, he was 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

"We gave them an extra out there, No. 1. Then it just looked like [Hand] elevated some pitches," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "This team that we're playing, they're going to the playoffs. ... We can't give them extra outs."

In all, the Nationals put together a string of five two-out hits to score five runs off Hand in the inning. They added another in the fifth courtesy of a Jayson Werth double.

The outburst was more than enough for starter Gio Gonzalez, a South Florida native making just his second career start at Marlins Park. The right-hander had been scheduled to throw on Wednesday, but the Nationals sent Blake Treinen to the mound instead. The extra day of rest clearly did Gonzalez some good. In seven innings, he gave up just two runs on six hits and didn't issue a walk.

"I actually wanted to hug Blake for that," said Gonzalez, who had to clarify several times that when he said "home," he meant Miami. "He was a trooper. Went out there and pitched in Atlanta and gave me a chance to pitch at home, in Miami, and it was pretty cool. ... I think that whole section [behind the on-deck circle] was bought out. A lot of that came from my back pocket. It's one of those things that you don't mind pulling out the AmEx card for."

Gonzalez allowed the Marlins to take an early lead in the second inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Baker, and Johnson followed with a double slapped to the warning track in right-center field. The ball bounced to the wall, then ricocheted into Denard Span's hand. But as Span unleashed a throw home to Ramos, Baker never slowed. He slid into the plate a second before Ramos could apply a tag.

But after that, Gonzalez cruised through the next few innings, needing just 55 pitches to get through five. A 10-pitch at-bat and a pair of hits drove him up to 80 pitches by the end of the sixth.

Gonzalez remained in the game for one more inning and earned his third win in his last four starts. That's after going through a stretch in which he went 0-5 with a 4.38 ERA in his previous nine starts.

"I just think he's got a better feel," Williams said. "You look back to not too long ago, where his slot was a little bit off and he was losing control of the fastball up and away to righties. He didn't have a feel for his curveball. But he's got that back, which is important for him. If he can do that, he can roll through the lineup."

Which the left-hander did, as he struck out five batters and induced seven groundouts compared to four flyouts.

"There's still more work to be done," Gonzalez said. "You're content, maybe. Those numbers are [good] for someone else, but for me, I want to keep getting better."

Maria Torres is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.