WASHINGTON (AP) The Washington Nationals already have an impressive starting rotation. If Gio Gonzalez returns to form, the NL East race may soon develop into a runaway.
Gonzalez pitched seven innings of two-hit ball, Trea Turner and Wilson Ramos homered and the Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants 5-1 on Friday night in a matchup of first-place teams.
Washington jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Jeff Samardzija (9-8), and Gonzalez made it stand up in arguably his finest outing of the season.
Coming off a tough 3-1 loss in San Francisco on Sunday, Gonzalez (7-9) struck out seven, walked one and had five three-up, three-down innings.
Gonzalez's ERA grew to 4.81 at the end of June, but he's brought it down to 4.13 after four consecutive starts with two or fewer earned runs allowed. He's won three of those four starts.
In a rotation that features Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and 11-game winner Tanner Roark, Gonzalez knows he has to be good to compete.
''I'm just trying to keep up with the rest of the guys,'' Gonzalez said.
On this night, the left-hander was as effective as any of them. The only hits he allowed were a solo homer by Angel Pagan in the fourth and a single by Denard Span in the sixth.
''He had good command, had his changeup working, an occasional breaking ball and he threw his fastball in and out,'' manager Dusty Baker said.
Sammy Solis gave up two hits in the eighth and Mark Melancon got three straight outs to complete the four-hitter.
It was the fourth straight win for the Nationals, who came in with a seven-game lead over Miami in the NL East.
The Giants remain atop the NL West, though their lead is dwindling. Since the All-Star break, San Francisco is 5-14 and has scored two runs or fewer in nine of those games.
''They're going to come out of it,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ''It better be sooner rather than later. We better get some good swings.''
Samardzija has certainly contributed to the slide. The right-hander gave up five runs in seven innings and is 0-3 with a 6.85 ERA in his four starts since the break.
''They got some good at-bats out there and definitely put the ball in play,'' Samardzija said.
Two of the balls were knocked completely out of play: the fifth-inning homer by Turner and Ramos' career-high 17th in the sixth.
San Francisco pitchers have allowed 32 homers in the last 19 games.
Daniel Murphy picked up his 81st RBI with a first-inning single, and Ramos followed with a sacrifice fly.
Washington made it 3-0 in the third when Turner doubled and scored on a fly ball by Bryce Harper.
Pagan got the Giants' first hit with one out in the fourth, a drive into the left-field seats.
Giants: Span has eight hits in his last 15 at-bats. ... San Francisco hasn't won two straight roads game since June 30 and July 1.
Nationals: Jayson Werth has reached base in 36 straight games. ... Murphy has a hit in 17 of his last 19 games, batting .422 with 22 RBIs.
Giants: RHP Cory Gearrin (right shoulder strain) was scheduled to make his third rehab appearance with Triple-A Sacramento on Friday night. ... LHP Josh Osich (left forearm strain) threw in the bullpen Friday and could start his rehab assignment Monday.
Nationals: INF Ryan Zimmerman missed a fourth straight game after being hit in the left wrist with a pitch Sunday in San Francisco. ''We hope he's better in a day or two,'' Baker said, adding that the team has not discussed putting Zimmerman on the DL. ... The Nationals are perplexed about RHP Joe Ross, who's been out for a month with shoulder inflammation and is still experiencing soreness. ''We're trying to figure out what to do,'' Baker said.
Giants: Matt Cain (3-6, 5.53) starts Saturday in the second game of the series. In his last outing, he pitched five hitless innings against the Nationals in San Francisco.
Nationals: Strasburg (15-1, 2.63) has allowed one run and six hits over 13 innings in his last two starts.