Gio bested by Buehrle

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Gio bested by Buehrle

MIAMI -- In hindsight, the Nationals were perfectly happy to wind up with Gio Gonzalez in their rotation instead of Mark Buehrle. It was only seven months ago, however, that general manager Mike Rizzo's focus was set squarely on Buehrle, his top offseason target.

It wasn't until after Buehrle spurned the Nationals' three-year offer for a four-year deal with the Marlins and Rizzo's gaze turned to Gonzalez and the six-player trade that brought the left-hander to Washington.

The Nationals aren't complaining at all, not with Gonzalez tied for the league lead in wins and coming off an appearance in the All-Star Game. But on Saturday night, everyone else did get a good glimpse at what made Buehrle so attractive to them in the first place.

With pinpoint command a breakneck pace on the mound, Buehrle carved up the Nationals' lineup for seven innings, leading the Marlins to a 2-1 victory and making a hard-luck loser out of Gonzalez, who was in top form himself but came out on the wrong end of a difficult decision.

"He certainly pitched well enough to win that one," manager Davey Johnson said.

Gonzalez pitched extraordinarily well, scattering four singles and a double over six innings, striking out nine and walking none. Buehrle, though, was better, allowing just one run over seven innings and looking every bit worth the 58 million contract he received in December.

"That's the first time I've ever faced him, but obviously I've seen him a lot," Ryan Zimmerman said of the 33-year-old left-hander, pitching in the NL for the first time this season. "He's been in the league a long time, and he's been really good a long time. He's one of those guys who pounds the zone, he works quick, and he's got a bunch of different pitches that he throws for strikes."

Buehrle (9-8, 3.13 ERA) was so efficient -- he needed only 26 pitches, 20 of them strikes, to complete his first three innings -- the Nationals couldn't afford to try to work the count. He threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the first 15 batters he faced, leaving just about every hitter in a hole or forcing them to try to put the first pitch in play.

The only run they finally managed to score off him came via small ball and hustle in the top of the fifth, with Ian Desmond beating out a bunt, then stealing second, then racing around to score on Jesus Flores' broken-bat single to left.

The Nationals had a chance to add to the tally later in that inning, with two on and nobody out. But Buehrle fielded Gonzalez's sacrifice bunt attempt and fired to third base to nail the lead runner. That proved costly when Danny Espinosa followed with a flyball to right that would have scored a man from third.

Instead, Zimmerman wound up at the plate with two outs and the bases loaded and wound up striking out on a 2-2 changeup in the dirt.

"I had a chance to get a big hit there, and he made some good pitches against me," said Zimmerman, who had been hitting .364 over his last 16 games. "I wish I could get a hit every time, but unfortunately the pitcher wins sometimes."

Zimmerman wasn't alone in his struggles against Buehrle or the two relievers Miami manager Ozzie Guillen summoned to finish out this game. Bryce Harper went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts, whiffing on three pitches against lefty Randy Choate in the eighth. Espinosa was 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts.

And Michael Morse went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts for the second consecutive day, once again getting called out twice.

"He's just in between the fastball and the breaking ball," Johnson said. "He's a better hitter than that. He'll come around."

The Marlins didn't have much more success at the plate against Gonzalez. They just managed to execute a couple of times with men in scoring position.

Carlos Lee drove in Jose Reyes with a fourth-inning single, with Reyes dancing off second base trying to distract Gonzalez throughout the at-bat.

"You just got to learn how to minimize damage," Gonzalez said. "Can't let him go out there and cheat on you a little bit and try to get too much of a lead."

One inning later, Emilio Bonifacio beat out a drag bunt, took second on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on John Buck's single to right-center. That's all the Marlins needed to take a 2-1.

"If you've got speed, speed kills," Gonzalez said. "And that's exactly what they were doing. ... All they had to do was put the ball in play."

Thus spoiled what the left-hander hoped would be a happy homecoming. Pitching nine miles from his home in Hialeah, Fla., Gonzalez had more than 600 family members and friends in attendance for his first-ever start in Miami.

Even in loss, the hometown kid couldn't help but smile afterward thinking about the experience.

"It's just one of those things you dream about," he said. "And that's exactly how I felt."

Strasburg, long balls power Nationals past Cardinals

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Strasburg, long balls power Nationals past Cardinals

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg struck out nine including seven of eight in one stretch and the Washington Nationals got home runs from Michael Taylor and Danny Espinosa in a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night.

Taylor's second leadoff homer of the year ended a 22-inning scoreless drought for the Nationals. Espinosa's first of the season was a two-run shot that capped a four-run fourth against Mike Leake (0-3).

Strasburg (4-0) gave up two runs on eight hits in seven innings with one walk. He has 29 strikeouts in 22 1-3 innings his last three outings. Jonathan Papelbon earned his eighth save in nine chances for Washington, which is 5-0 in Strasburg's starts.

Matt Adams hit a two-run homer off Blake Treinen in the eighth for St. Louis, who are 18-9 against Washington the last five seasons.

Leake, who got a five-year, $80 million free agent deal, gave up five runs in seven innings and has a 5.83 ERA.

Daniel Murphy and Jayson Werth had an RBI apiece in the fourth.

TRAINER'S ROOM

C Wilson Ramos (bereavement list) could return this weekend after leaving following the death of his grandfather. Manager Dusty Baker said the team would be patient, adding "death has no season."

UP NEXT

Jaime Garcia (1-1, 3.24) is holding opponents to a .198 average, among the league's best. Joe Ross (2-0, 0.54) was among just five NL starters to not allow a homer, with a minimum of 20 innings.

RELATED: NATS SEE TOUGH ROAD TRIP AS GOOD TEST FOR WHERE THEY'RE AT

Nationals turn to Strasburg as they start series with Cardinals

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Nationals turn to Strasburg as they start series with Cardinals

Nats (14-7) vs. Cardinals (12-10) at Busch Stadium

The Nationals will look to bounce back after getting swept by the Phillies as they head to St. Louis for a series with the Cardinals.

Stephen Strasburg (3-0, 2.17) will take the mound for Washington looking to continue his impressive start to the 2016 season. Strasburg has never started a season 4-0.

The Cardinals will turn to Mike Leake who has allowed at least four runs in each of his four starts this saeson.

First pitch: 8:15 p.m.
TV: MASN 2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Stepehen Strasburg vs. Cardinals - Mike Leake

NATS

CF Michael Taylor
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Bryce Harper
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Daniel Murphy
LF Jayson Werth
SS Danny Espinosa
C Jose Lobaton
RHP Stephen Strasburg

CARDINALS

3B Matt Carpenter
RF Stephen Piscotty
LF Matt Holliday
1B Matt Adams
CF Randal Grichuk
2B Jeed Gyorko
SS Aledmys Diaz
C Eric Fryer
RHP Mike Leake

Follow along with GameView here.

Nats see tough road trip as good test for where they're at

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USA Today Sports Images

Nats see tough road trip as good test for where they're at

There is a significant contrast in the quality of teams the Nationals have faced thus far this season through 21 games and the caliber of clubs they are about to see on their upcoming 10-game road trip. It's a major scheduling quirk and as of Friday morning, the Nats are standing right on the middle of it.

Behind them is the second-easiest schedule in baseball to this point based on opponents win percentage. And up ahead are three teams that finished among the four best records in baseball last season. The worst team they will play coming up on this road swing based on their 2015 regular season record is the Kansas City Royals. They led the American League with 95 wins and later won the World Series.

The trip begins in St. Louis against a Cardinals team that led baseball with 100 wins last season. And the journey closes with the Chicago Cubs, a 97-win team that reached the NL Championship Series.

It's an unusually difficult road trip, to say the least.

“It’s one of the tougher trips I think I’ve probably ever been on," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.

"There are three or four times on the schedule where you say, 'Hey this is going to be a heck of a road trip,'" manager Dusty Baker said. "It's going to be a test."

The Cardinals and Cubs boast the two highest-scoring offenses in baseball right now. The Cards have a +48 run differential and the Cubs - who have the best record in baseball at 16-5 - are +74. 

The Cubs and Royals rank in the top 10 in MLB in team ERA, the Cubs are second only to the Nats in baseball in the category. The Royals have the seventh-best bullpen ERA and everyone knows they can play defense.

All three teams will present challenges and, if you ask some members of the Nats, that could be a good thing.

"This is going to be a test to see -- a barometer to see how good we are right now," Baker said. "We're not full-forces yet, we haven't been and we've done pretty well, because Ben Revere, one of our igniters, is getting ready… but it's going to be exciting."

"You enjoy the challenge," Zimmerman added. "I think you get to see what we’re really made of. Go out and play three really, really good teams and I think the guys in here are excited for it.”

The Nationals are going to learn a lot about themselves over the next 10 days, that's for sure.