- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2014

BALTIMORE — Gio Gonzalez had thrown 22 consecutive scoreless innings going into the final game of the Beltway series against the Orioles on Thursday night.

His streak ended in dramatic fashion in the first inning when Baltimore’s Steve Pearce hit a solo home run to left field. The rest of the outing was just as distasteful for Gonzalez as the Nationals fell 4-3 at Camden Yards.

After returning from a stint on the disabled list for a shoulder injury on June 18, it didn’t look like Gonzalez would be back in form anytime soon. In his first start back, Gonzalez allowed four earned runs in five innings against the Houston Astros.

Nationals fans were understandably concerned about their star southpaw, but as it turned out they had nothing to worry about. In his next three outings, Gonzalez turned in six-, seven- and eight-inning scoreless performances.

“He’s been good,” said Nationals manager Matt Williams, before the game. “I think the key for Gio, in his last three especially, has been the ability to throw a curveball early for strikes. … I can view it from a hitter’s perspective; once he can do that I’m not so confident anymore standing in the box because I know he can do it. I know he can throw the changeup behind in the count, and I know that surprise fastball in to me can be a real tough pitch to hit, too.”

But the early innings of the game in Baltimore saw Gonzalez struggle with the pitches that had worked so well for him in his previous three starts.

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After allowing the Pearce homer in the first, Gonzalez pitched well through the second, only to give up three more runs in the third. One of the runs came in as the result of a 77 mph curveball, while a second came in on an 83 mph changeup. The third was unearned, the result of a throwing error by Ian Desmond that ended the Nationals’ franchise record-tying run of 13 games without an error.

“There’s no excuses,” said Gonzalez. “I have to pitch better if I want better results. I can’t be walking guys with two outs and I can’t be falling behind on a good hitting team like that.”

After struggling early on, Gonzalez buckled down and battled into the seventh inning before being pulled in favor of reliever Aaron Barrett. He allowed four runs, three earned, in 6 2/3 innings, striking out seven.

“I felt fine,” Gonzalez said. “After the first two innings I felt like I found my groove and I was going out there and trying to attack the strike zone. It’s a tough lineup to go against these guys, and especially all the way down to the last guy, it’s definitely a battle trying to mix it up and trying to go out there and work a tough game.”

No one can stay perfect forever, and despite a solid showing from the Nationals’ bats and their bullpen, Gonzalez was not quite good enough on a rainy Thursday night in Camden.

“He was OK — a two out walk started it, and then the missed play,” said Williams, recalling the Orioles’ 3-run third. “That one inning got him, but other than that, he was really good.”

The Beltway Series isn’t over yet. The second game of the series, which was rained out on Tuesday night, will be played Aug. 4 at Nationals Park.

“Like everyone kept saying, it was a good series,” said Gonzalez. “Very well put together; showed that there’s a lot of hope in the Beltway series. They look good, we look good, it was just a fun game all around. Everyone had some fun and we all got some smiles out of it, but at the end of the day we’ve got to go out there and do our job.”

“Good games [in this series], tight games,” Williams added. “Good games to be a part of. We wish we could have won two of the three, but we’ll get them again on August 4 and see what we can do.”

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