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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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Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

ATLANTA (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg struck out a season-high 11 and kept up his recent domination of the Atlanta Braves, leading Washington to a 3-2 win Sunday that stopped the Nationals' four-game losing streak.

Strasburg (5-1) allowed five hits in 7 2/3 innings, beating Atlanta for the second time this season and improving to 7-1 in his last nine starts against the Braves. He is 10-8 overall against Atlanta.

He reached double digits in strikeouts for the second time this season after fanning 10 Braves on April 20.

Strasburg faded in the eighth, when Dansby Swanson hit a two-run double. Koda Glover struck out Nick Markakis to end the inning and finished the six-hitter for his third save.

Daniel Murphy hit a second-inning homer off Jaime Garcia (1-3) and the Nationals added two unearned runs in the third.

Matt Adams was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and hit into a ninth-inning double play in his debut for Atlanta, a day after he was acquired from St. Louis. Matt Kemp led off the ninth, and Adams hit a line drive that was caught by Ryan Zimmerman, who stepped on first base.

Garcia allowed three runs -- one earned -- and seven hits in eight innings with no walks.

Washington took a 3-0 lead in the third following fielding errors by Markakis in right and Garcia. Bryce Harper had a run-scoring single.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon and C Matt Wieters were given days off from the starting lineup. Rendon entered at third base in the eighth.

Braves: RHP Kris Medlen allowed one hits in six scoreless innings Saturday in his first start for Class A Florida. He missed most of 2016 with shoulder problems after his second Tommy John surgery. "That would be a real nice piece to have," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. Medlen pitched for Kansas City in 2015-16 and his last season with Atlanta was in 2013, when he was 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Following an off day, RHP Jacob Turner (2-2) is expected to start when the Nationals will open a series against Seattle on Tuesday.

Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4) will take a 0-3 career record in three starts against Pittsburgh into Monday night's series opener against the Pirates.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

A week ago, the Nationals were looking unstoppable. Bryce Harper was hitting walkoff dingers left and right, there were multiple winning streaks, and the bullpen was only sorta bad. 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

A week's worth of games later - against the Braves, Pirates and Phillies, no less - and the Nats don't look nearly as stainless. Harper's hitting under .200 since his Mother's Day walkoff, the team lost 5 of 6, and the bullpen turned back into a pumpkin. Because of that, there's a new team at the top of the Power Rankings this week. Who is it? To the rankings! 

30. MIAMI MARLINS

2017 Record: 15-28
Previous Ranking: 24
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Dee Gordon (.318/.400/.364 last week)

Stanton hasn't homered in over two weeks, a stretch of 12 games. After going 2-8 over the last 10, including that weird Dodgers game, the Marlins have seen better weeks.  

29. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 16-30
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance: Brad Hand (.300/.500/.600 last week)

Wil Myers' underwhelming season continues. The outfielder is hitting .150 over the last week, and only .219 over the last month. The Padres best position player is only worth .6 bWAR, and that's 5th-best on the team.

28. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 15-26
Previous Ranking: 23
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Daniel Nava (.429/.429/.571 last week)

They ran into Texas at exactly the wrong time. Getting starts that are consistently like Aaron Nola's last one will be huge for his development this season. 

27. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2017 Record: 18-25
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Lorenzo Cain (.087/.125/.087 last week)

They're starting to play better, but upcomming series with the Yankees and Indians aren't making life any easier for KC. Jason Vargas (?!) has been their most valuable player this year (2.0 bWAR). 

26. ATLANTA BRAVES

2017 Record: 18-23
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 7-3
Notable Performance: Matt Kemp (.375/.423/.708 last week)

Losing Freeman for three months because of some dumb unspoken beef is just a testament to how stupid unwritten baseball rules are. The silver lining to this year, though, is that the Braves are going to fleece some team for Matt Kemp in July. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE