Nats back left-hander with six more homers
The knock on Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez was that his control too often deserted him at inopportune times.
It was a fair criticism -- if one that Gonzalez was able to overcome during two fine recent seasons with the Oakland Athletics. But the winter trade to Washington has brought about a far more efficient pitcher. He was on display again on Wednesday night in an easy 9-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park.
Gonzalez took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and pitched seven shutout innings before departing. He allowed just three hits and didn't walk a batter with nine strikeouts. Gonzalez has pitched 17 consecutive scoreless innings, including a shutout of St. Louis on Friday.
In his final two seasons with the A's, Gonzalez walked 92 batters (2010) and 91 (2011). That total has been cut to 63 walks in 28 games with at most five starts remaining in the regular season. He is now 18-7 with a 2.98 ERA and a 20-win season in sight.
[Cy Young consideration] is an honor, but at the same time, my eyes are on something else," Gonzalez said. "I want to continue to win for this team and continue to stay healthy and strong. ... We're playing such great baseball I think it's selfish of me to think for myself."
Meanwhile, the Nats' offense continued to pummel the Cubs. One night after hitting six home runs to tie a franchise record since relocating to the District in 2005, they hit six more to break the game wide open.
Roger Bernadina, Bryce Harper (twice), Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche all homered. For LaRoche, his blast in the third inning was his fifth in 17 at-bats and third in two days. It was also the second in as many days hit to the opposite field. He finished 3-for-4 with a walk and before his seventh-inning strikeout had reached base nine times in a row.
"I don't know what's going on," LaRoche said. "Whatever we're doing we need to continue to do it."
Bernadina was playing in place of outfielder Jayson Werth, given the day off by manager Davey Johnson to rest a sore calf muscle. He also singled and stole a base.
Harper's homers were his 16th and 17th of the season. That allowed him to pass Ken Griffey Jr. for third all time among teenagers. Only Mel Ott (19) and Tony Conigliaro (24) hit more before age 20.
"I'm never satisfied with the things I do," Harper said on MASN. "Going to the playoffs, going to the World Series, that's the only thing on my mind."
Over the last eight games Washington has scored a total of 61 runs. They have scored at least eight runs in six of those games. Bernadina and Harper hit back-to-back homers in the fourth, with LaRoche adding his later in the frame. Desmond and Espinosa did the same in the seventh inning. For Desmond, that extends his career high to 21 homers, while Espinosa now has 16.
"It's a pretty hard lineup to match up against," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "We struggled offensively a lot the first half of the year, but we always had the talent to hit."
The Nats improved to 84-52 as they moved one step closer to clinching the National League East title. They kept pace with the second-place Atlanta Braves, a 1-0 winner over Colorado. The Braves are 77-60 but still stand 7? games behind with 25 games left.
Washington has 26 games left to play, and its magic number to clinch the division is down to 19. The Nats are 7-1 since ending a five-game losing streak last week and are a season-high 32 games over .500.