Gio Gonzalez is often a forgotten man in a star-laden Washington Nationals rotation, though he's pitching just as well as its two biggest names.
The New York Mets can attest.
Gonzalez looks to continue his mastery of the Mets when the NL East rivals open a three-game series at Nationals Park on Monday night.
Though Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer have been the headliners of a starting five that's second in the majors with a 2.91 ERA, Gonzalez (3-1, 1.86 ERA) has certainly done his part by yielding one earned run or less in six of eight outings. The left-hander again accomplished the feat with 6 1/3 sharp innings in Wednesday's 7-1 win over New York, with Yoenis Cespedes' solo homer the lone damage among five hits.
The effort improved Gonzalez to 10-4 in 18 starts against the Mets, one of several division teams against which he's excelled. He's 7-1 with a 1.38 ERA over his last 15 matchups with NL East clubs, allowing two runs or fewer in each.
"Gio continues to be one of our best pitchers," manager Dusty Baker told MLB's official website. "He's getting better and better."
An ability to suppress the long ball - particularly at home - has keyed Gonzalez's success. He's surrendered five homers in 31 starts at Nationals Park since 2014 and none in four this season. Cespedes' homer was the Mets' only one in their past six meetings with Gonzalez, who is 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA during that stretch.
Home runs have usually been prevalent for New York (25-18), which leads the NL with 60 this season. The Mets hit four in sweeping a three-game weekend set with visiting Milwaukee after losing two of three at home to Washington.
Cespedes, who is 4 for 7 off Gonzalez, doubled and scored on Asdrubal Cabrera's tie-breaking two-run single in the fourth inning of Sunday's 3-1 win. Noah Syndergaard protected the lead by fanning 11 over seven dominant innings.
Washington (27-17) received its own strong performance from Scherzer to remain 1 1/2 games in front of New York for the division lead. The former Cy Young Award winner struck out eight over eight innings to cap a 4-2 road trip with Sunday's 8-2 victory at Miami.
Anthony Rendon had two hits and three RBIs and finished the trip 10 for 20 with seven RBIs. He's hitting .405 with a .519 on-base percentage over his last 12 games.
Rendon is 6 for 16 with a home run against Bartolo Colon (3-3, 3.75) and had a two-run single off the veteran to support Gonzalez in Wednesday's win.
Taking the mound one day shy of his 43rd birthday, Colon attempts to regroup from an uncommonly wild display against Washington. He issued five walks - his most since April 2005 - while allowing three runs in 4 2/3 innings to record a second consecutive loss.
''It just felt like I was on the mound, just walking around, it felt a little bit different," he said. "I couldn't just get that comfortable grip.''
New York, which swept a three-game set at Nationals Park in September en route to overtaking Washington for the NL East title, likely won't have first baseman Lucas Duda available for a third straight game due to a sore back. The Mets are worried that an extended absence lies ahead.
"I'm really concerned that this is going to keep this guy out for a while," manager Terry Collins said. "But that's just me. I'm not the doctor."