CINCINNATI -- Following a personal three-game skid going into the All-Star break, Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez opened the second half with a sterling performance. Backed by Bryce Harper's two home runs, Gonzalez stifled the Reds for 8 1/3 innings and cruised to a 5-0 victory on Friday at Great American Ball Park.
Gonzalez allowed four hits with two walks while striking out six. It was his fourth straight quality start but first victory since June 20. Matt Albers gave up three hits that loaded the bases in the ninth, but Matt Grace notched the final out to end it for his first save of the season.
"That was the sharpest I've seen him in the longest ..." Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "And I mean this is a tough offensive team he faced in a very short ballpark. You never really feel comfortable here because you can reach the fences, and they've got quite a few guys that can reach the fences. So that was outstanding for Gio."
The Nationals offense tallied four runs over Gonzalez's last two starts, but flipped the script by plating four in the first three innings Friday. That was all the left-hander needed, as he moved to 78-0 in his career when his team gives him four or more runs of support.
"Second half, coming back throwing eight innings, that's a good way to start the second half," Gonzalez said. "I was pretty exhausted once I got to the ninth ... but I got some work in today, definitely. Going to get a lot more work in tomorrow."
Reds starter Tim Adleman was tagged for five earned runs and seven hits over 4 1/3 innings with three walks and four strikeouts. Cincinnati has dropped six of Adleman's last seven starts, while the right-hander was the losing pitcher in five of those games.
Adleman labored through a 28-pitch top of the first inning and gave up a pair of two-out runs on RBI singles by Stephen Drew and Anthony Rendon. Harper made it 4-0 with a two-run homer to right field in the third inning and extended the lead to five runs when he led off the fifth with a homer to center field.
Gonzalez took it from there by keeping the Reds offense quiet. Three of the four hits he allowed were infield singles hit to Rendon at third base.
"He just did a super job controlling the strike zone," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "But we've got to put more pressure on these guys and keep the runs down early and give ourselves a chance to take that lead and get deeper into the game and get into the bullpen."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Harper's bat makes baseballs go boom: Friday marked the fourth time this season and 14th time for his career that Harper enjoyed a multi-homer game. His first homer off of Adleman was on a 2-1, 86-mph pitch. Harper demolished it with an exit velocity of 111.6 mph, according to Statcast™, and it traveled 405 feet to right field. His second homer traveled 440 feet to center field. Before Friday, he had hit just two home runs in his last 22 games -- both on July 2 vs. St. Louis.
"I think just coming back from the All-Star break, just trying to get in the swing of things again," Harper said. "And I tried to get a pitch over the plate I could drive and got two of them tonight." More >
Gio escapes: The Reds didn't apply much pressure on Gonzalez until the fourth inning when Adam Duvall hit a one-out double and Eugenio Suarez walked. Gonzalez escaped by striking out Scott Schebler and then got some nice defense when Brian Goodwin ran in and made a diving catch on Jose Peraza's fly ball to center field.
"Gio, you don't really want to tip your cap to somebody, but he was throwing all three pitches for strikes tonight," Schebler said. "Sometimes it's just that way. He was really good tonight."
"I think we have to allow these guys to go out there and pitch and not feel like they're one start from being back in the Minor Leagues or bullpen. I think we're going to run with it and if we have to make changes, we certainly will. At this point in time, I don't see anybody a start or two from being out of the rotation." -- Price, when asked if Adleman's spot in the rotation was secure despite some recent struggles, especially with two-strike counts
NICE DEFENSE BY SCHEBLER
With one out in the top of the fourth, Goodwin laced a drive to deep right-center field. Billy Hamilton and Schebler converged on the ball, but it was Schebler who executed a nice catch on the run at the warning track. According to Statcast™, it was a four-star catch as it had a 41-percent catch probability. Schebler had 4.6 seconds to cover 76 feet. He came into the night 4-for-6 on four-star catch chances and 39-for-42 on plays of 1-4 stars (26-95 percent catch probability).
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: Nationals ace Max Scherzer starts the second game of the series against the Reds at 7:10 p.m. ET Saturday. The right-hander led Major League starters in WAR and strikeouts during the first half of the season.
Reds:Luis Castillo will seek his second big league victory as he takes the mound vs. Washington. Castillo worked 6 2/3 innings last Saturday for a 7-0 victory over Arizona, while allowing three hits and one walk with three strikeouts.