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Gonzalez, Nationals roll past Mets

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- There may not be a starting pitcher who is more relaxed in the hours before a start than Gio Gonzalez. But he got serious when the Washington Nationals needed him to do so on Sunday afternoon.

Gonzalez wriggled out of a first-inning jam and ended up allowing just three hits and striking out seven in seven shutout innings as he won his second straight start in the Nationals' 13-2 rout of the New York Mets in front of 33,366 at Citi Field.

The top eight players in the Nationals lineup -- everyone except Gonzalez -- had at least one hit and one run scored as Washington (41-40) set a season high in runs scored and reached the midway point of the season with a winning record.

"When you see these guys smiling out there and having some fun, it just takes a lot of tension off everyone out there," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez overcame a rare tense moment of his own in the first, when he gave up a one-out single to Daniel Murphy and walked David Wright.

Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, who has caught Gonzalez since the two played together in the Oakland Athletics' system, trotted out to the mound for an animated discussion that Gonzalez called "...a little pump(ing up) and a little chewing out.

"Him going back out there (saying) 'Hey, let's go, pound the strike zone and try to get these guys to ground out or minimize the damage as much as possible,'" Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez struck out Marlon Byrd and retired Josh Satin on a flyout to right to end the threat. That began a stretch in which Gonzalez retired 17 of 18 batters and helped ensure he would be in as good a mood after his start as he was before it.

Gonzalez walked into the locker room at about 10:30 and, unlike most starting pitchers on the day of a start, nodded to everyone who made eye contact with him.

Half an hour later, upon realizing the locker room stereo wasn't working, Gonzalez borrowed a speaker-shaped boom box from pitching coach Steve McCatty and fired up Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" -- a song released in 1983, two years before Gonzalez was born.

Gonzalez, grinning and holding the radio aloft, then walked into the office of Nationals manager Davey Johnson.

"He's always laid-back," Suzuki said with a grin.

Lately, Gonzalez has been as good on the mound as he has been relaxed off it. After going 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA last year, Gonzalez stumbled to a 5.34 ERA in six April starts.

But he has a 2.10 ERA in his last 11 starts, a stretch in which he has gone just 2-1, and he threw a career-high 84 strikes among his 119 pitches on Sunday.

Gonzalez said much of his success is a result of the chemistry between himself, Suzuki -- whom the Nationals acquired from Oakland last July -- and McCatty.

"He's allowed to go out there and crack some jokes," Gonzalez said. "And when you've got Steve McCatty doing the same thing, they take a lot of the pressure and the tension off you as a starting pitcher. I think that makes it a lot easier to go out there and just focus on what you need to do."

Suzuk said,: "Just knowing each other, he doesn't take it personally. I really don't get on him much. Sometimes I'll do it ... because I want him to do well."

Suzuki had a big role at the plate, as well, with an RBI single during the Nationals' four-run second inning and a two-run homer in their six-run eighth.

Ian Desmond hit a two-run homer in the ninth and finished with three RBI. Jayson Werth had two hits, including a solo homer, and scored four runs. Denard Span had three hits.

"I never lose faith in our lineup," Gonzalez said. "They've got some good, tough competition, good pitchers to go against, so when you see them swinging the bat against good guys, it's pretty impressive and it's fun to watch."

The Nationals entered the weekend 14th in the National League in runs but scored 20 in winning two of three from the Mets. They battered the Mets so badly on Sunday that New York backup catcher Anthony Recker pitched the ninth and gave up Desmond's blast.

"Nice to see the bats come alive," Johnson said. "Make that trip home a lot shorter."

The Nationals' barrage ruined the home debut of highly touted Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler, who took the loss after allowing five runs, six hits and two walks while striking out five in 4 2/3 innings.

Plenty of anticipation, as well as the second-largest crowd of the year at Citi Field, accompanied the New York debut for Wheeler, who opened his career by going 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA in two road starts against the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox.

The buzz continued building as Wheeler struck out the first two batters he faced, Span and Anthony Renden, before he got Ryan Zimmerman to ground out to complete a perfect 13-pitch inning. But the dream debut began turning sour in a hurry when Adam LaRoche homered on the first pitch of the second.

"I loved the way he started -- strike after strike after strike," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "The future's still extremely bright and the ceiling's extremely high."

John Buck hit a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth for the Mets and Josh Satin had two hits.

NOTES: Nationals RHP Dan Haren, who was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday (retroactive to June 23) with right shoulder tendinitis, threw a bullpen session on Sunday morning. ... Fellow RHP Ross Detwiler, who had a stiff back after Friday night's start, threw Sunday as well and said he felt better. Detwiler is still penciled in to start for the Nationals on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers. ... Mets LHP Tim Byrdak, who is recovering from left shoulder surgery, made his fourth minor-league rehab appearance on Saturday and allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning with Class A St. Lucie. ... Recker became the first Mets position player to pitch since ex-backup catcher Rob Johnson threw a scoreless inning in a 14-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on May 18, 2012. ... The Mets' largest crowd this season was an Opening Day sellout of 41,053 on April 1.
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