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Gonzalez makes statement with complete game

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Gonzalez makes statement with complete game

Davey Johnson asked a lot of Gio Gonzalez last night in Houston. Throw at least seven innings to give an exhausted bullpen a break. No, wait, make that a complete game. On 117 pitches, two shy of your career-high. With the tying run on third and the winning run on second during the bottom of the ninth.

Oh, and while you're at it, would you mind clubbing your first career home run as well?

If it sounds like too much to ask of one player in one night, it probably was. Sometimes, though, it takes a brilliant (and gutsy) individual performance to carry a ballclub on his shoulders to a victory that wouldn't have been possible without him.

And in that regard, Gonzalez really showed the Nationals something during yet another tense win over the hapless Astros, this time by a score of 4-3.

The left-hander probably shouldn't have been on the mound in the bottom of ninth. Certainly he didn't appear to have anything left in the tank after he allowed a two-out, RBI single to Ben Francisco. With the lead now down to one run and the winning run now at the plate in the form of All-Star Jose Altuve, you kept looking to the dugout for the sight of Johnson strolling to the mound, signaling to the bullpen and taking the ball from his starter.

Except there wasn't anybody warming in the bullpen at that point. Drew Storen had pitched on three consecutive days and was deemed unavailable for this one. Same for Tyler Clippard, who had pitched five of the last six days.

No, this game was entirely in the hands of Gonzalez, win or lose. He continued to make things interesting when he surrendered a two-out single to Altuve -- though Bryce Harper really made it interesting with an ill-advised and wild throw to third base, allowing Altuve to advance to second. All of a sudden, the Astros were one base hit away from stealing this game.

But that's when Gonzalez dug deep for something extra when he needed it most. He struck out Matt Downs on four pitches: a pair of 94 mph fastballs followed by a pair of curveballs.

It was the first time in his career Gonzalez completed nine innings, and it was perhaps the most significant of his 14 victories as a National. Not because he was facing his toughest opponent of the season (he certainly wasn't). But because his team needed him to step up and pitch like an ace, and he responded in kind.

Johnson may be doing everything he can to keep his starters from going more than seven innings, but he needed to know Gonzalez could do it if asked.

You can bet the manager will remember this effort come late-September or perhaps October if confronted with the choice of giving Gonzalez the hook or leaving him in with a chance to finish what he started.

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Stock Watch: Scherzer nearing the 20 win mark

Stock Watch: Scherzer nearing the 20 win mark

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 4-2

Team slash: .269/.339/.426

Team ERA: 5.17

Runs per game: 6.2

 

STOCK UP 

Max Scherzer, SP: 2-0, 12.2 IP, 18 K

Another start, another win for Scherzer, who continues to make his case for the NL Cy Young Award. In fact, the Nats have won the last nine starts he’s made, while he’s posted a 2.87 ERA and 69-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio over that span. In Sunday’s season finale, the 31-year-old right hander will get a shot to earn his 20th win, a feat that would put the finishing touch on a stellar second season in D.C.

Reynaldo Lopez, RP:  1-0, 5.1 IP, 6 K, 0 ER

Given the circumstances, Saturday’s outing by Lopez might have been the finest of his rookie season. Coming in relief of Joe Ross in the third inning, the 24-year-old flamethrower tossed 5 1/3 shutout innings against the Pirates on the night that clinched the NL East title for the Nats. The performance was so impressive that Dusty Baker said after he’d consider adding Lopez to the playoff roster as a long man.

STOCK DOWN

Yusmeiro Petit, RP: 2 GP, 0-1, 2.0 IP, 5 ER

The Nats have a little over a week to configure their 25-man playoff roster, and the hardest part of the process might be putting together the bullpen. As mentioned earlier, Baker is considering adding Lopez as a potential long man. If that’s the case, would it come at Petit’s expense?

Lucas Giolito, RP:  1 GP, 2.0 IP, 4 ER   

The Nats starting rotation — especially when healthy — was obviously one of the driving forces of the team’s NL East title. That said, one of the more disappointing developments of 2016 was Giolito not emerging like the club hoped he would this year. Whether it was in a starting role or out of the bullpen, the 22-year-old prospect never quite showed the elite fastball he was said to have in the minors. Instead, he's throwing his heater in the low 90s, not fooling anyone in The Show. Of course, there's plenty of time for Giolito to progress and become the top-line starter the Nats expect him to be someday. But for now, there seems to be a larger-than-expected gap between what he is and what he could be. 

[MORE: DODGERS SET ROTATION FOR PLAYOFF SERIES AGAINST NATIONALS]

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Mets' prospect Tim Tebow hits home run on his first professional pitch

Mets' prospect Tim Tebow hits home run on his first professional pitch

Tim Tebow started his professional career Tuesday with the New York Mets instructional league team with a game against the Cardinals in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

He had about the best start you can think of, hitting the first pitch he saw over the left center field fence.

Tebow decided to take a swing at the major leagues after his pro football career flamed out.

The Denver Broncos picked him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and he played in 23 games for them, one of them a dramatic win over the Steelers in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.

He couldn't find his rhythm the next season and was traded to the Jets in March 2012. He was released the next year, then eventually spent short stints with the Jets and Patriots.

He tried his hand at broadcasting, taking a job at ESPN as a college football analyst in 2013 before taking one last shot at the NFL. He signed with the Eagles in 2015 but was released after their fourth preseason game.

There was a bit of controversy surrounding Tebow's move to baseball, a sport he hadn't played full-time since 2005. People questioned whether the former Heisman Trophy winner actually had what it takes, or if he was only getting a shot because he's Tim Tebow and the Mets wanted publicity. 

So far, so good.

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