- CSNwashington.com - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

PHILADELPHIA — There was a time when a six-inning, three-run start would have disappointed Gio Gonzalez. But these days, the Nationals’ erratic left-hander is finding the positives in each of his outings, so his latest one Tuesday night against the Phillies left him more encouraged than discouraged.

“It’s progress,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously, everyone wants to go six, seven innings scoreless, eight innings scoreless. … It’s a work in progress. I knew it was going to be a tough game from the beginning. Cole Hamels has been pitching great. I was going to try to match him up as much as possible.”

Gonzalez couldn’t quite match Hamels, who carried a shutout into the seventh but departed after giving up two runs that inning followed by a leadoff homer to Asdrubal Cabrera in the eighth. But this ultimately was a better performance by Gonzalez than several recent ones.

He made three mistakes, and one of them arguably wasn’t a mistake. He hung a curveball to Grady Sizemore that was lashed to right-center for a triple. He then left a fastball way up in the zone to Freddy Galvis, who tomahawked it over the left-field fence for a 2-run homer — “It’s a good pitch,” Gonzalez said. “He just got the bat head out and hit it down the line. Fair ball, home run.” He then grooved a fastball to Darin Ruf that turned into another homer.

The most encouraging part of Gonzalez’s evening: He was much more efficient than in several recent starts. He got through the fourth inning on only 43 pitches, and was pulled after six innings despite throwing only 87 pitches.

That continued a positive trend for the lefty. After averaging a whopping 22 pitches per inning in starts against the Braves and Pirates, he has averaged only 14 in his last two starts against the Diamondbacks and Phillies.

In the big picture, Gonzalez may not be where he or the Nationals would prefer. He’s 6-9 with a 3.86 ERA and hasn’t won a game since July 5. But there has been, as he pointed out Tuesday night, actual progress. Over his last 12 starts, Gonzalez has a 3.07 ERA with a 1.25 WHIP that is comparable to the mark he posted last season.

“It’s little by little, getting on top of the pitches,” he said. “Curveball is starting to snap a little more. I’ve got to start learning how to stop throwing them for a strike when you get ahead of the hitter and start putting it down more lower in the strike zone. Other than that, it’s definitely a pitch that’s actually worked and is starting to shape up.”