Nats hope for some length from Gonzalez in Kansas City

The Washington Nationals need to get some innings out of Gio Gonzalez on Friday night when they open a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals.

The Nationals come in having taken the final three contests of a four-game set with the Chicago Cubs, but have squeezed nine innings out of their bullpen over the last two days.

Washington's relief group came in for an ineffective Ross Ohlendorf to throw 4 2/3 innings in Wednesday's victory, then logged the final 4 1/3 frames of Thursday's 5-4 victory in 13 innings.

Stephen Strasburg nearly notched a complete game, giving up just one run through his first eight innings of work. However, he was touched for three runs in the ninth, including a game-tying two-run homer with two outs that ended his night.

"What a great effort. I know he was upset, but he pitched a heck of a ballgame," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of Strasburg.

It wasn't all for nothing as Chad Tracy brought home the winning run with a pinch-hit groundout in the 13th frame. Ryan Zimmerman and Steve Lombardozzi homered for Washington, which is 9 1/2 games back of the second wild card spot in the National League.

Johnson will probably need to stretch Gonzalez, who is winless in his past six starts since his last victory on July 10. He is 0-3 in that span with a 4.64 earned run average.

Washington has been held to just one run four times on Gonzalez's winless stretch, including a tough-luck 2-1 setback to Atlanta for the left-hander on Sunday. Gonzalez gave up both runs on five hits and four walks over seven frames, striking out nine.

The 28-year-old is 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA in 25 starts this season and faces the Royals for the eighth time in his career. He is 3-3 with a 6.44 ERA versus them lifetime.

Kansas City plays host to Washington badly needing to pick up some victories. The Royals went 19-5 right after the All-Star break, but have since lost eight of their past 10, including five in a row. That has dropped the club seven games back of a wild card spot and 9 1/2 contests behind Detroit for first place in the AL Central.

The Royals dropped a heartbreaker to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, falling 4-3 in 12 innings after Conor Gillaspie golfed a solo homer off Luke Hochevar in the final inning.

Royals relievers did not allow a hit in four innings of work before Gillaspie got to Hochevar.

"We have a lot of character on this team. We're going to keep fighting until the end," said K.C. starter James Shields, who got a no-decision. "That's one thing we haven't done all season long is we haven't quit at all. We're going to keep grinding it out. We've just got to come up with some wins here soon."

Bruce Chen gets the call for the Royals tonight coming off his first loss of the season. That came in Detroit on Sunday as he was tagged for six runs on eight hits and a walk over 5 1/3 innings.

The 36-year-old lefty is 5-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 26 games this season, going 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA in seven starts.

Chen has faced the Nationals franchise 12 times in his career, including six starts, and is 2-2 with a 4.93 ERA in this matchup.

The Nats took two of three over the Royals at home in the most recent encounter back in June of 2010. The club will visit Kansas City for the first time since 2004, when the Montreal Expos took two of three at Kauffman Stadium.