WASHINGTON -- Gio Gonzalez, the left-handed starting pitcher for Washington, had an easy explanation for why he bounced back to pitch so effectively against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday night.
"It is Danny's birthday," grinned Gonzalez, motioning to his right and toward the locker of second baseman Danny Espinosa.
Espinosa, on his 26th birthday, broke out of a monthlong slump and Gonzalez allowed one hit in eight innings as the Nationals beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-1 before an announced crowd of 24,748.
Espinosa had a double, homer and three RBI, Denard Span had three hits and three RBI and Bryce Harper added two hits, including a homer, for Washington. Ian Desmond also had two hits for the Nats, who pounded out 12 hits, including five for extra bases.
"He is a very confident young man," Washington manager Davey Johnson said of Espinosa, who entered the game with a .155 batting average. "His goal is to improve every year. His swing from the left side is a lot better."
The Nationals (11-11) won the opener of the four-game series after losing their last six home games. The Reds (13-10) fell behind early in a matchup of starting pitchers from south Florida as Bronson Arroyo (2-2) gave up five earned runs and nine hits, including two homers, in six innings.
Gonzalez (2-1) bounced back from a poor start Saturday against the New York Mets to beat the Reds, who are 1-6 on the road this year. Washington had lost its last four games.
"It was one of those things. They got me runs early," Gonzalez said. "I wanted to go out there and pound the strike zone. I had a great defense behind me. I did not want to let them down. I was just trying to stay locked in. I was trying to give Davey something to look forward to and stay positive. That was a great team effort."
Johnson said of Gonzalez, "Gio was just outstanding. He started right after them. In previous games, he was missing early. It was just a fun game. Gio did a heck of a job."
A 21-game winner last year, Gonzalez allowed one run with seven strikeouts and two walks while throwing 112 pitches. With fans chanting "Let's go Gio," he fanned pinch-hitter Xavier Paul to end the eighth. Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth for Washington.
"He was throwing the ball really well -- good location guy both sides of the plate," said Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who homered for Cincinnati's only hit, said. "He asks you to be ready to hit every single pitch, and that's not common."
Reds manager Dusty Baker said, "Gio had his control. He had his fastball working. He had his curveball. Gio can pitch. I've been watching Gio for a few years, and when he's on, he's on."
The Nationals took a 6-0 lead in a four-run third as Espinosa hit a two-run homer off Arroyo to score Adam LaRoche.
Washington had taken a 3-0 lead when Harper led off the inning with a long homer to center. It was the eighth homer of the season for Harper, who set a Nationals record for home runs in April.
Jayson Werth then followed with a single and went to third when LaRoche, who had fanned in his six previous at-bats, hit a grounder to Votto at first. The throw from Votto to second base hit Werth, who advanced to third as LaRoche was safe at first.
Ian Desmond then grounded out to second as Werth scored to make it 4-0 before Espinosa followed with his homer down the right-field line. It was the second homer of the season for Espinosa, who entered the game with three RBI in 58 at bats.
Gonzalez, who began the night with an ERA of 5.85, retired the first 11 batters before Votto homered to left in the fourth to make it 6-1.
NOTES: Reds left-hander Sean Marshall, who went on the disabled list April 10 with tendinitis in his left shoulder, made a rehab appearance Wednesday for triple-A Louisville and allowed no runs in one inning against Gwinnett. He was eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday ... Shin-Soo Choo (.534) and Votto (.477) entered the game ranked first and second in the National League in on-base percentage. ... Steve Lombardozzi got the start at third base and was hitting second in the order for the Nationals. Rookie Anthony Rendon had started the past four games at third for Washington after Ryan Zimmerman was placed on the DL with a hamstring injury. Werth, who normally hits second for the Nats, was in the cleanup spot against the Reds ... Votto and LaRoche each had 10 putouts at first.