WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals are suddenly streaking and the pitcher who got it started will take the mound when they open a three-game series against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.
Washington’s Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 2.67 ERA) opposes Nick Pivetta (1-1, 3.27) in the first meeting of the season between the National League East rivals.
Gonzalez threw seven-innings of one-run ball last Sunday to help the Nationals salvage the final game of a series against Arizona and the Nationals (16-16) haven’t lost since.
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One start after expressing frustration over being taken out in the sixth inning against the Giants, Gonzalez stymied the Diamondbacks, allowing six hits while striking out eight and walking two in his longest outing of the season.
“I think (manager Dave Martinez) did a great job by feeling confident in me, letting me go out there and definitely helping me feel a little bit better about saving some arms in the ‘pen,” Gonzalez said.
“It was a good feeling when you have Sean Doolittle embrace that and acknowledge it. And then you have (Ian Kintzler) doing the same thing, saying, ‘You saved some arms out there.'”
Washington’s bullpen is well-rested now. In sweeping four games from the Pirates, they won the middle two by 12-4 and 9-3 scores. That allowed closer Doolittle to post a five-out save in Thursday’s 3-1 finale.
Washington’s Jeremy Hellickson pitched into the sixth but was lifted with two outs when the Pirates’ leadoff batter, Adam Frazier, singled. It was the second straight game in which Hellickson was lifted after two trips through the opponent’s lineup.
“I would’ve liked a chance to get out of that,” Hellickson told the Washington Post. “But (Martinez) thought that was best right there … But we won the game. That’s all that matters.”
Philadelphia (17-13) was off Thursday after a 6-0 win over the Marlins on Wednesday that averted a sweep. Aaron Nola (4-1) He allowed four hits and one walk while striking out seven in 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
“Cesar told me in batting practice that, ‘I need to ease up on my swing a little bit. I’m going to be nice and easy tonight.’ Boom,” manager Gabe Kapler told mlb.com. “In order to catch up to 95 (mph), you have to be nice and easy… Cesar did exactly what he said he was going to do and set the tone for us.”
Supporting a rotation led by Sunday’s starter, Jake Arrieta, Phillies relievers have the fifth-best ERA in baseball (3.08) and an 8-4 record.
“The bullpen is a major strength of our club,” Kapler told the Bucks County Courier Times. “We’re going to continue to lean on those guys.”
Pivetta had a 1.88 ERA in his previous four starts, striking out 25 and walking two in 24 innings, before struggling last time out in a loss to the Braves, allowing six hits and walking three in five innings.
Against the Nationals, Pivetta is 0-1 with a 7.45 ERA in two starts. Gonzalez is 10-7 with a 2.69 ERA in 23 starts versus the Phillies.
Odubel Herrera is 4-for-15 (.267) against Gonzalez, and Hernandez is 7-for-30 (.233) and Aaron Atherr is 2-for-17 (.118).