The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Gio Gonzalez did not sound like someone who wanted to pitch in a meaningless regular-season finale.
Didn’t exactly pitch like it, either.
Gonzalez gave up five runs in the first inning of yet another concerning outing for a Washington Nationals starting pitcher, and the NL East champions wrapped up their 162-game schedule with an 11-8 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
“Before this start, I felt great. … I felt like I actually did something. Then today’s game, I did nothing. Took a couple steps back,” said Gonzalez (15-9), before adding sarcastically: “That’s what I wanted to do right? That’s why I wanted to pitch the last game of the season.”
He needed 39 pitches across 16 arduous minutes to record the game’s first three outs, while his ERA rose from 2.75 to 2.96 just in that opening inning. The Pirates batted around as the lefty walked two batters, hit Jordan Luplow to force in a run with the bases loaded and allowed Max Moroff’s three-run double along with Jacob Stallings’ RBI single.
“He was under the weather,” manager Dusty Baker said about Gonzalez. “He’s been there for a few days now. I could sort of tell, because it looked kind of like he lost some weight.”
This came a day after 2016 NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer left his last pre-playoffs start for Washington in the fourth inning after feeling something wrong with his right hamstring. At least Scherzer sounded optimistic about things Sunday, saying that an MRI exam showed he had only “tweaked” his muscle, not strained it.
Gonzalez went 4 1/3 innings, allowing six runs. It was his shortest appearance of a bounce-back season after going 11-11 with a 4.57 ERA in 2016 and part of a downward trend of late: Four of Gonzalez’s last five starts lasted five innings or fewer.
Just to introduce another element of uncertainty from a game that didn’t matter, Tanner Roark — slated to join Stephen Strasburg, Scherzer and Gonzalez in Washington’s postseason rotation — entered in the sixth and promptly gave up two runs in his one-inning tuneup.
Hardly the preferred sort of preparation before facing the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs in an NL Division Series that starts in the nation’s capital in less than a week.
Plus, the time of 4 hours, 22 minutes made this the longest nine-inning regular-season game in both Pirates and Nationals history.
“Pointless,” Gonzalez called it.
Joked Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: “You guys didn’t know we had the ESPN Sunday night game.”
Washington’s hitters did not exactly look ready for prime time: They went 0 for 7 with the bases loaded.
There was a welcome sight for Washington in the seventh: RF Bryce Harper racing home from first — hair in full flow — on Adrian Sanchez’s double, showing no signs of trouble from the hyperextended left knee that landed the 2015 NL MVP on the DL for 42 games. “First time I’ve really turned it on in seven weeks or so,” Harper said, “so it felt good.”
In the last regular-season game of LF Jayson Werth’s $126 million, seven-year contract, he was greeted by a standing ovation from some in the announced crowd of 36,652 before his first at-bat. A video montage played on the scoreboard above center field and fans held signs saluting him, including one that read, “Thank you, Jayson.” Werth doffed his batting helmet to the crowd before his final at-bat. When he jogged off the field in the ninth, Harper met him outside the dugout for a hug.
Angel Sanchez (1-0) earned his first big league win with two shutout innings in relief for Pittsburgh. George Kontos got the final out for his first save in 322 appearances in the majors. “I feel like it’s fitting,” Kontos said. “I’ve waited five full seasons in the big leagues to notch that off the belt, and I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to come here and pitch in some big situations.”
Nationals: Host the NL Central champion Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. Washington went 97-65, two more wins than a year ago and one short of the Nationals-best 98 in 2012.