Nationals' Gonzalez looks to stay hot against Angels (Jul 19, 2017)

BY AP • July 19, 2017

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Washington Nationals boast a pair of aces, Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg, who are a combined 21-8 this season.

However, the Nationals might not own an 11 1/2-game lead in the National League East if not for Gio Gonzalez. The 10-year veteran is 8-4 with a 2.66 ERA this season, and he is 72-49 with a 3.50 ERA since he came to Washington in 2012.

He starts the finale of a two-game series against the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday coming off a stout 8 1/3 scoreless innings in a win against Cincinnati. Gonzalez pitched the Nationals to a 5-0 victory over the Reds on Friday in the first game back from the All-Star break.

"That was as sharp as I've seen him and the longest he kept his sharpness," Washington manager Dusty Baker said after the win. "He had an outstanding breaking ball, located his fastball well, threw an occasional changeup, and against a tough offensive team in a very small ballpark. That was outstanding."

Gonzalez has been outstanding throughout 2017 for a Nationals team that has the third-most wins in baseball. He has allowed just 13 earned runs in his past eight starts since the beginning of June, yielding 33 hits in 53 1/3 innings while pitching to a 2.19 ERA. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 15 of his 19 starts, and two runs or fewer in 14.

He hasn't faced the Angels since 2014, but he has a career 7-2 record with a 2.62 ERA in 11 starts against them.

"He's more of a pitcher now than he's ever been in his career," Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said during Gonzalez's June success.

"He can't rely on a 96 mph fastball any more. Now he's 89 to 92, pitches low in the zone. He's gone back to relying on this nasty curveball, and really has developed a third pitch in the changeup. He's challenging hitters and getting ahead of them. I think that's always been the key to him, and I think that he's really now beginning to become more of a pitcher than he was when he was young and had that electric arm."

The Angels come into the game straining to stay in the picture for an American League wild-card playoff spot, the West division title seemingly having been clinched by the Astros in late May. Houston has a 16 1/2-game lead, with Los Angeles 18 games back. The Angels are 3-10 in their past 13 games.

The Angels are expected to recall Alex Meyer from Triple-A Salt Lake before the Wednesday game to make the start. The team has had enough off days and the All-Star break to go with a four-man rotation, which allowed them to send Meyer (3-5, 4.18 ERA) out to work on his mechanics.

"He's come a long way from where he was last year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said at the time of Meyer's demotion. "As much as you think you can influence a player with coaching, experience is the best teacher. You look where he was last year or even where he was in spring training, and there's a huge jump. Hopefully, he'll take another step forward."

In five innings on July 9 against El Paso, Meyer allowed four runs (three earned) on three hits in five innings. He walked two, struck out seven and yielded two homers.

He has been inconsistent in his past few major league starts, with two good outings against the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Kansas City Royals offset by a 3 1/3-inning performance against the Boston Red Sox and a 4 2/3-inning, five-walk start against the New York Yankees.

Meyer will be facing the Nationals for the first time.

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