A breakout performance against one of baseball’s elite pitchers figures to be a boost for the previously slumping Giants.
San Francisco will look to ride the momentum to another win Saturday night against the visiting Washington Nationals and another quality pitcher in Gio Gonzalez.
The Giants (62-53) had been listless offensively, batting .216 and averaging 2.7 runs during a 2-5 stretch. Even Thursday’s 3-1 series-opening victory wasn’t overly impressive with more strikeouts (nine) than hits (eight). San Francisco had also been bottled up in recent meetings with Washington, scoring three runs or fewer 10 times while dropping 11 of 15.
However, the club touched up Max Scherzer for a season-high six runs and seven hits – including two homers – over three innings in an 8-5 victory Friday, the Washington ace’s shortest outing since 2012. Matt Duffy finished a triple shy of the cycle, and Hunter Pence also went deep against Scherzer.
Washington’s four-game losing streak is its second in two weeks, and the Nationals (58-57) are in danger of falling to .500 for the first time since they were 15-15 after May 8. Their worst slide of the season was a six-game skid April 22-27.
They’re hitting .221 with 189 strikeouts while dropping 14 of 20 on the road. Ryan Zimmerman was 0 for 4 and struck out three times Friday, falling to 1 for 15 with 10 strikeouts in his last four contests.
”We’re trying to have good at-bats and I think we did that,” said Bryce Harper, who Harper homered and drove in four runs. ”Hopefully we can take that into tomorrow, the next couple of days and keep having fun.”
Despite the recent struggles, Washington has a good shot of bouncing back behind Gonzalez (9-4, 3.50 ERA), who is 5-0 with a 1.48 ERA in his last eight games with a 6.10 run-support average. Opponents are batting .167 with runners in scoring position in that span compared to .289 previously.
Gonzalez tossed a season-best eight shutout innings in Monday’s 8-3 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and though he threw a season-high 117 pitches, manager Matt Williams lauded his improved efficiency. Gonzalez had averaged 18.3 pitches per inning in his previous five outings compared to 14.6 Monday.
"The eight innings mean a lot. I told skip (Williams), ‘Thank you for giving me a chance to finally go past the sixth and seventh inning," he told MLB’s official website. "To be in the eighth inning, it’s nice. Take it with a grain of salt. I will also move on and get ready for the next start."
Gonzalez hasn’t lost to San Francisco since 2010, going 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in five meetings since. He held them to a Buster Posey homer and four other hits over seven innings in a 2-1 home victory July 3 while using only 82 pitches.
Pence was on the disabled list for that game and is 1 for 12 lifetime against the left-hander.
Gonzalez faces the same pitching counterpart with Jake Peavy (2-5, 3.75) on the mound for the Giants. Peavy gave up two runs on a Clint Robinson homer and lasted 6 1-3 innings in the loss, falling to 4-6 in 12 career regular-season games against Washington.
Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Yunel Escobar are a combined 8 for 49 against the right-hander with Zimmerman striking out nine times in 16 at-bats.
Peavy’s five innings in Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs marked the first time in seven starts he failed to complete at least six innings.