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  W: A. Sánchez (1-0)   L: G. González (15-9)   S: G. Kontos (1)
12:05 PM PT1:05 PM MT2:05 PM CT3:05 PM ET15:05 ET19:05 GMT3:05 12:05 PM MST2:05 PM EST2:35 PM VEN23:05 UAE2:05 PM CT, October 1, 2017
Nationals Park, Washington, District of Columbia  Attendance: 35,652

Gonzalez, Brault start finale for Nationals, Pirates

WASHINGTON -- The regular season ends Sunday but the last game of the season is important for different reasons for pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Steven Brault.

Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) is a veteran lefty for the Washington Nationals while Brault (1-0, 3.86) is a young left-hander for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gonzalez will be making a team-high 32nd start of the year and 275th of his career while Brault will be making the fourth start of the season and 11th of his career.

With the Nationals in the playoffs for the fourth time with Gonzalez in the rotation, the Miami-area native will be preparing for a postseason appearance against the Chicago Cubs.

"I just want to get into a rhythm and try to find my arm slot and attack the strike zone and get some innings in," said Gonzalez, standing near his locker Friday. "We are not overlooking the Pirates, that is for sure. I have to do my job and get a rhythm going."

Gonzalez is ranked fourth in the National League in ERA, behind Clayton Kershaw and teammates Max Scherzer (2.51) and Stephen Strasburg (2.52). Strasburg pitched into the eighth inning here Friday against the Pirates and did not allow a run while Scherzer left in the fourth inning Saturday night for precautionary reasons to get an MRI exam on his right hamstring, according to manager Dusty Baker.

Gonzalez is 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA in eight starts in his career against the Pirates while Brault has never faced Washington.

Gonzalez won 21 games for the Nationals in 2012 when Washington made the playoffs for the first time after coming from Montreal. But his ERA went up in each of the previous four seasons and reached 4.57 in 2016.

Brault was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles but was traded to the Pirates in a deal that sent veteran outfielder Travis Snider to the Orioles.

Brault said there is only one other time that he pitched the last game of the season in the pro ranks. That was with the Class A Frederick Keys of the Carolina League, and he had to deal with a rain delay that early September day in 2014.

"It is a strange idea, pitching the last game. When it comes down to it we are on the field competing," he said Friday. "I am excited. Good vibes would be going deep in the game and attacking hitters."

Brault said it is a challenge to face the Nationals, who rank among the league leaders in hitting, runs and homers.

"I think it is awesome. I think our division gets overlooked as far as lineups. It is a nice challenge that each day you are going out there to face the best," he said. "I will take away experience from this year. Even though I was in Triple-A most of the year I was able to learn a lot about pitching and myself. Coming to the big leagues it was a big deal to continue that and not change it."

Washington outfielder Bryce Harper returned from the disabled list Tuesday in Philadelphia. He did not play Thursday but was in the lineup Friday against the Pirates and is 1-for-14 since his return. Do days off help at this point?

"Yeah, I think so," said Baker, the Washington manager. "Most teams don't like that time off like you said, but each day that goes by gives him another chance to get his timing and his rhythm. And he did see a lot of pitches tonight. They pitched him tough tonight and Harp's going to get it. And if he doesn't get it right away, we got to pick up the slack until he gets it."

Scherzer landed in a strange way on his leg while pitching to Josh Bell in the fourth Saturday.

The Nationals downplayed his departure after the game.

"There is nothing else to talk about," said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, perhaps aware the team cakewalked to a division title in a weak National League East.

Updated October 1, 2017

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