Gio returns, but struggles in Nationals win

Gio returns, but struggles in Nationals win
June 18, 2014, 11:00 pm
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: On a sweltering night on South Capitol Street, the Nationals made everyone sweat a little more with their play on the field. Gio Gonzalez labored through five innings in his return from a month-long stint on the DL. The lineup failed to capitalize on several early opportunities to knock out Scott Feldman.

In the end, though, the Nationals stuck with it and wound up giving all those fans who stuck it out through a heat index of 101 degrees reason to go home happy. They rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh, turning a 5-3 deficit into a 6-5 lead thanks in large part to Anthony Rendon's homer and Nate McLouth's sac fly.

Tyler Clippard rebounded from a rough night to toss a 1-2-3 eighth, Rafael Soriano closed it out for his 15th save and the Nationals finished off a 2-game sweep of the Astros. They now own a 1 1/2-game lead in the NL East heading into a huge, 4-game series with the Braves this weekend.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: The Nationals gave themselves chances all night. They finally converted them in the bottom of the seventh. Rendon blasted the first pitch of the inning into the Red Porch seats. Jayson Werth walked and then showed great instincts going first-to-third on Adam LaRoche's single up the middle. Ryan Zimmerman hustled to prevent a double play and bring the tying run home. Ian Desmond kept the pressure on with a double to left, forcing Bo Porter to intentionally walk Danny Espinosa and load the bases for Sandy Leon. Matt Williams then made a bold move, sending up McLouth to pinch-hit for his catcher. It worked: McLouth lofted the first pitch he saw to left field for the sacrifice fly that gave the Nats the lead.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Though he showed no signs of the shoulder discomfort that landed him on the DL, Gonzalez's first big-league start in a month was by no means comfortable. He put the leadoff man on base in all five innings he pitched, three of them via walks. He was roughed up for four runs during a laborious top of the fourth. He needed 93 pitches to make it through his five innings of work. Yes, his arm appears to be fine. But the Nationals have to be at least somewhat concerned about his results.

KEY STAT: Nationals infielders have now hit 42 homers this season, second-most in the majors behind the Blue Jays (45).

UP NEXT: It's arguably the biggest series of the season, at least to this point. The Braves come to town for a 4-game showdown, with first place on the line by Sunday evening. First up it's Jordan Zimmermann vs. Gavin Floyd in Thursday's 7:05 p.m. opener.