After the MLB-leading Washington Nationals shut down their 24-year-old phenom over the weekend, Gio Gonzalez seems more than capable of playing the role of ace down the stretch.
Gonzalez tries to extend his 16-inning scoreless streak and become the majors' first 19-game winner Monday night as the Nationals open a three-game set against the New York Mets, who've lost nine of 10 in this series at home.
After monitoring Stephen Strasburg's workload, Washington (86-54) created a stir Saturday by shutting him down a bit earlier than expected. He was originally scheduled to make his final appearance of the season Wednesday against New York (65-75).
While not having to face Strasburg surely comes as a pleasant surprise to the Mets, they can't be looking forward to a matchup with Gonzalez (18-7, 2.98 ERA).
The left-hander has been at the top of his game of late, going 5-1 with a 1.87 ERA over his last six starts. After throwing his first career shutout in a 10-0 win over St. Louis on Aug. 31, Gonzalez allowed three hits and struck out nine over seven scoreless innings Wednesday during a 9-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
"I think the way these guys performed tonight, the way they always performed every night, every start that I go out there, it feels like they give me their best in Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers," Gonzalez told the Nationals' official website.
Tied with New York's R.A. Dickey for the most wins in baseball and leading the majors with a .208 opponent batting average, Gonzalez continues to be mentioned in the NL Cy Young conversation.
"I want to continue to win for this team, continue to stay healthy and strong, keep battling and get some more wins for them," he added. "We are playing such great baseball. I think it's selfish of me to think (about) myself."
Gonzalez has typically given the Mets fits, with one exception. He was tagged for a season-worst six runs in 3 1-3 innings during a 9-5 loss July 19, but has posted a 0.92 ERA in his other three starts against New York, winning the last two.
The Nationals could use another gem from Gonzalez after yielding a combined 23 runs while dropping two of three to Miami over the weekend. Edwin Jackson was hit hard in Sunday's 8-0 defeat.
A visit to New York, though, could be just what Washington needs to regroup. The Nationals have taken 11 of the last 14 in this series overall, outscoring the Mets 28-8 during a five-game road winning streak.
New York's recent home woes haven't just come against the Nationals. The Mets have been outscored 121-53 while dropping 19 of 23 at Citi Field, where they were swept by Atlanta over the weekend.
"We're running out of ideas," manager Terry Collins said after Sunday's 3-2, 10-inning defeat. "It's about grinding it out right now. It's about going out there and having some confidence in your ability."
The Mets try to get back on track behind rookie Collin McHugh (0-1, 3.27). The right-hander struck out nine over seven scoreless innings during his big league debut in a 1-0 loss to Colorado on Aug. 23, but wasn't nearly as sharp last Monday at St. Louis.
He allowed four runs and six hits over four innings of a 5-4 loss.
"I didn't have very good command," he told the Mets' official website. "I've got to be smarter, it's as simple as that. I put us in a pretty deep hole early on. Hats off to the guys for scraping, but I've got to do better than that."