It's no surprise to Gio Gonzalez's teammates that he's off to a strong start for the Washington Nationals. That's in part because the left-hander continues to pitch well against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Facing those Phillies for the second time in 11 days, Gonzalez tries for another successful outing Wednesday night at Nationals Park.
A 21-game winner in his first season with Washington (14-5) in 2012, Gonzalez (1-0, 1.42 ERA) did not win more than 11 games in each of the next three years but also hasn't experienced a losing season in the nation's capital.
The three earned runs he's allowed are the fewest through his first three starts with the club. Opponents are batting .186 with an on-base percentage of .230 against Gonzalez, who has walked four and owns a 0.89 WHIP.
"I think he had a good winter," teammate Jayson Werth told the Nationals' official website. "He worked hard. I think his confidence is where it needs to be. He's been working really hard. He wants to be good and do good. I'm happy for him."
Gonzalez allowed one run over his first two starts, that coming in seven innings while striking out eight in a 3-2, 10-inning loss at Philadelphia (10-10) on April 17. He then yielded the other two earned runs and also fanned eight in six-plus innings of Friday's 8-4 win over Minnesota.
''He can paint the outside with his fastball and change and he keeps you honest inside," Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
Even if the Nationals again struggle offensively against the Phillies, Gonzalez would seem to have a good chance at holding them at bay after posting a 2.13 ERA in his last four matchups.
He'll try to keep the Phillies from taking this three-game set after their 4-3 victory Tuesday ended Washington's eight-game home winning streak. Andres Blanco's two-run homer highlighted his three-hit night, and he scored the go-ahead run on Maikel Franco's double in the seventh inning.
Franco is 8 for 18 with nine RBIs in the last four games, but 0 for 8 with three strikeouts against Gonzalez.
Hours after Phillies manager Pete Mackanin talked about how to pitch to Washington star Bryce Harper, the reigning NL MVP went 1 for 2 with an RBI and three walks. He's 21 for 46 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in his last 12 games against the Phillies, and homered in each of the first three meetings this season before Tuesday.
''I'm going to walk him every time we face him this series," Mackanin said. "No, I'm kidding. That's a joke.''
Harper is 3 for 5 with a double and three walks against Jeremy Hellickson (1-1, 5.21), who allowed six runs and seven hits over three innings of a 9-1 loss to Washington on April 15. The right-hander wasn't much better five days later when he gave up four runs and a career high-tying 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings of a 5-4, 11-inning victory over the New York Mets.
Hellickson, who gave up two earned runs in 11 2/3 innings of his first two 2016 starts, is 0-2 with an 8.78 ERA in three against the Nationals.