Nationals-Pirates Preview

The Associated Press

Much like the rest of the Washington Nationals, Gio Gonzalez is ready to move on from a tough April.

The left-hander looks to bounce back from another rough outing while trying to help the Nationals complete a winning road trip with a second straight victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.

A 21-game winner with a 2.89 ERA in 2012, Gonzalez (2-2, 5.34 ERA) allowed a run, six hits and walked four in 11 innings to go 1-0 in his first two starts this season. However, he's yielded 18 runs, 20 hits and 14 walks in 21 innings while going 1-2 in the last four.

Gonzalez's early struggles have coincided with the mediocre start by Washington (16-15), the reigning NL East champion with lofty expectations for 2013.

"It's a long season, man. I'm not going to stress it," Gonzalez said.

After he gave up a run in eight innings of an 8-1 win over Cincinnati on April 25, Gonzalez struck out a season-high nine but allowed five runs and walked five in four innings of an 8-1 loss at Atlanta on Tuesday.

Though Washington has won three of four in May after Saturday's 5-4 victory, manager Davey Johnson knows if Gonzalez is to follow suit, he must be more efficient than he was Tuesday.

"When you pitch, you've got to hit your spots, you've got to make good pitches," Johnson told the Nationals' official website. "He just didn't do it. He punched out a lot of guys, but a lot of them were full counts. You waste a lot of pitches on a lot of hitters."

Gonzalez is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in two starts versus Pittsburgh (17-13), but has never pitched at PNC Park.

The Nationals are in position to finish 4-3 on a trip that began with two straight losses to the Braves. Wilson Ramos delivered a game-tying single in the sixth and Tyler Moore had a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the ninth to help Washington rally from a 4-2 deficit Saturday.

Hours after Johnson called a team meeting with the hope of igniting a lethargic offense, the Nationals scored more than three runs for the first time in seven games.

"Well, we got a few more guys on base,'' Johnson said after his team managed six hits and stranded 11 runners. "We didn't get many in - but it's a start.''

Johnson's team is batting .174 (8 for 46) with runners in scoring position during that seven-game span.

First baseman Adam LaRoche went 1 for 1 with an RBI and three walks. The ex-Pirate is 4 for 7 with five walks in three games after going 1 for 32 with 13 strikeouts and one walk in his previous 10.

He's batting .348 (8 for 23) against scheduled Pittsburgh starter Wandy Rodriguez (2-1, 3.91).

The left-hander hopes to rebound after he gave up seven runs, three homers and four walks in 3 2-3 innings of a 10-4 loss at Milwaukee on Monday.

"I had bad location. A lot of hitters I started behind in the count,'' he said. "For the hitter, it's easy when they know what's coming. When you're behind you throw a fastball for a strike and they know a fastball is coming and they hit it.''

Despite a 4.50 ERA, Rodriguez is 5-2 in 10 starts against the Nationals.

Starling Marte and Clint Barmes each hit two-run homers but the Pirates' four-game home winning streak ended Saturday.

Batting .328, Marte has hit three of his four home runs in the last four games.

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