MIAMI — Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez drifted from the on-deck circle to the screen in front of the seats Thursday night, smiling as he chatted with some of the fans in the lower section.
On this night, many of them were more than just fans. They were family members and friends, those who had known Gonzalez from his childhood in nearby Hialeah, Florida, and his days at Monsignor Edward Pace High School, 20 minutes up the road.
Gonzalez said they nearly occupied an entire section. And many of them were there on his dime.
“I basically pitched for free,” he said with a huge grin. “You don’t mind pulling out the Amex card for that.”
Starting in Miami for only the second time in his major league career, Gonzalez turned in what manager Matt Williams said was one of his best starts since returning from the disabled list June 18. The left-hander allowed six hits and two earned runs over seven innings to pick up his third win in four starts, leading the Nationals past the Marlins, 6-2.
“Changeups were really good. Curveball really good. And a good-velocity fastball tonight, too, when he wanted it,” Williams said. “That may be the best I’ve seen him since he was back from his mini-stint with the shoulder issue. He was really good.”
As he nears the end of what has been a subpar regular season, Gonzalez is finally hitting his stride in time for Washington’s postseason push.
He has now posted six straight quality starts. He is controlling his fastball and throwing his curveball for strikes early in the count. And perhaps most importantly of all, he has not issued a single walk in two of past three starts, including Thursday night.
“You want to keep working. Season’s not over yet,” Gonzalez said. “I give a lot of the credit to our rotation. [I’ve] been almost like studying and watching them, doing homework. Just watching them go out there and attack the strike zone.”
After a stellar 21-win season in 2012, Gonzalez entered last season as the unquestioned No. 2 starter in Washington’s rotation, behind the recently shut-down Stephen Strasburg. Now, he is no safe bet to be on the team’s postseason pitching staff, though this recent stretch has certainly helped his case.
“I think we all kind of go through that as players,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who went 1-for-4 with an RBI single in the fourth inning Thursday night. “Whether you’re going good or bad, you’ve just got to find home. … You just have to figure out who you are and remember who you are. It seems like he’s done a good job with that.”
As he does after many starts, Gonzalez took time to identify everyone else who had aided in the team’s victory Thursday. He praised Craig Stammen for pitching a scoreless eighth inning, and Rafael Soriano for bouncing back from his shaky previous appearance and taking care of business in the ninth.
Gonzalez also thanked Williams for allowing him to close out the seventh, further proof that their scuffle after Gonzalez’s previous start is long behind them. Then Gonzalez turned his attention to Blake Treinen, who started Wednesday’s series finale in Atlanta, gave Gonzalez a day off and lined up his Miami homecoming .
“I actually wanted to hug Blake for that,” Gonzalez said, grinning again. “[He] gave me a chance to pitch at home — in Miami. And it was pretty cool.”