Nationals-Reds Preview

A team meeting may have sparked the Washington Nationals for one

night, but Gio Gonzalez and the rest of the staff are big reasons

they’re atop the NL East as one of baseball’s early surprises.

Gonzalez looks to continue his dazzling run as the Nationals

open a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday

night.

Washington (19-12) has the best staff in baseball with a 2.64

ERA, and the rotation has been even better with a 2.24 ERA while

holding opponents to .199 at the plate.

That outstanding pitching was on display Thursday, when Stephen

Strasburg allowed one earned run and struck out 13 in six innings

of a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh. That performance helped end a

three-game slide after manager Davey Johnson held a team meeting to

discuss the struggles.

“That’s a good night to have a team meeting, isn’t it?” Johnson

said.

Giving the ball to Gonzalez (3-1, 1.72) may be just what the

Nationals need to keep rolling.

The left-hander has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his

last five starts – starting with a seven-inning scoreless outing

with seven strikeouts versus Cincinnati on April 12 in a 3-2,

10-inning home win – and was impressive again Saturday, yielding

one run and four hits with seven strikeouts in a 7-1 win over

Philadelphia. He even helped himself with just his second career

hit – a double – before scoring on Jayson Werth’s homer.

“Outstanding effort against a good-hitting club,” Johnson said.

“He made it look easy.”

Despite his impressive start to 2012, Gonzalez hasn’t been as

consistent on the road, going 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA in three

starts.

He’ll now make his first start at Great American Ball Park since

he spent his previous four seasons with Oakland.

Adam LaRoche was 6 for 17 with six RBIs in last month’s series

with the Reds, and he enters this one hitting .400 with four homers

while driving in eight runs in 10 contests.

Cincinnati is returning home for a series before opening a

seven-game road trip at Atlanta on Monday. The club has won five of

seven after a 2-1 victory at Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Leake (0-4, 5.97) gets the ball in an effort to keep the Reds’

momentum going, but he’s also getting a sixth crack at his first

win of 2012.

The right-hander’s season-opening losing streak continued

Saturday, as he allowed three runs and two homers with four walks

in a seven innings of a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh. However, he felt

there were signs of improvement during his longest outing of

2012.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Leake,

whose ERA dropped more than one-half run. “Even though I had four

walks, I was still happy with the way I threw the ball. I had a

couple more mistakes than what showed, but they made me pay for two

of them.”

Leake is 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA in five starts against the

Nationals, allowing five runs with three walks in 6 1-3 innings of

an 8-5 win in 11 on April 15.

He’s been much better in winning two home meetings, compiling a

2.45 ERA.

Joey Votto is hitting .333 with five doubles and three RBIs in

seven games.