Battle of talented lefties highlights Nats-Phils tilt

Gio Gonzalez was nearly unhittable in his last trip to the mound.

The Washington hurler may have to be just as good on Saturday night if he hopes to lead the Nationals past red-hot Philadelphia Phillies starter Cole Hamels in the middle contest of a three-game series.

Gonzalez is coming off his second career shutout as he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning to beat the New York Mets on Monday. The lone hit the left-hander ended up allowing was a single to Zach Lutz, who hit the first pitch he saw of the frame towards first base. The bouncer got past a diving Adam LaRoche and clipped the chalk.

Gonzalez also walked two batters and struck out eight in the victory, improving to 10-6 with a 3.31 earned run average in 29 starts this year.

"All three pitches were right where I wanted them to be," said Gonzalez. "My arm felt great. It was the first I've felt like that in a long time."

The 27-year-old has won his last three starts, including a victory over the Phillies on Sept. 3. He was charged with five runs over 5 2/3 innings, though just one was earned as he improved to 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA in seven lifetime encounters.

Hamels, meanwhile, has posted a 2.18 ERA in 13 starts since early July with a 5-2 record over that span. He has not lost since July 26 and won his third decision in a row last Sunday with a 3-2 victory over Atlanta.

The 29-year-old lefty lasted eight innings and scattered two runs on two hits and a pair of walks with nine strikeouts. Hamels has lasted at least seven innings in nine straight outings and has fanned eight or more in five of his past six.

Looking to finish the season strong, Hamels is 7-13 with a 3.45 ERA in 30 starts, having already set a single-season high in losses.

The former World Series MVP did not get a decision versus Washington on Sept. 2 despite seven innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts. He is 14-6 with a 2.52 ERA in 27 career meetings with the Nats.

Washington has been rolling down the stretch, winning a season-high seven straight games as well as 18 of its past 23. Friday night's 6-1 win, coupled with a loss by Cincinnati, moved the Nationals to within 4 1/2 games of the Reds for the league's second wild card spot.

Ryan Zimmerman continued his power surge with a solo homer, his seventh longball in the past seven games and ninth of September. Wilson Ramos added a home run and three RBI, while Denard Span extended his career-high hitting streak to 24 straight games.

Ross Ohlendorf, given the start after Stephen Strasburg was a late scratch due to forearm tightness, gave up just one run over five innings in the victory.

"It is great to come away with a win. It is a lot of fun with the way our offense is playing. Everyone, we're playing so well as a team. I feel like we're really clicking on all cylinders," said Ohlendorf.

The Nats also clicked late during the 2012 season on the way to an NL East title, winning eight in a row from Aug. 4-11.

Carlos Ruiz drove in the lone run for the Phillies, who had won five of their last six entering the contest. Kyle Kendrick, though, was pounded for six runs on eight hits -- two homers -- over 4 1/3 innings.

"I gave up a couple homers, but other than that I had some grounders through the hole. The walks weren't good. I just have to keep making pitches and move on," said Kendrick.

The Phillies trail the season series with the Nats by a 10-7 count and have lost three straight and six of the past seven matchups between the clubs.