CINCINNATI -- The Nationals had scored a combined three runs in the first inning of their first 31 games. They matched that Friday night against Cincinnati starter Mike Leake.
Roger Bernadina and Danny Espinosa hit two-run home runs, and Gio Gonzalez struck out nine in five innings to lead the Nationals to a 7-3 win against the Reds at Great American Ball Park Friday night.
The Nationals earned their 20th win of the season by equaling their season-high run total in the first four innings against Leake and reliever Alfredo Simon. They were held scoreless on two hits over the final five innings, but Gonzalez and the bullpen made a big early lead hold up.
Manager Davey Johnson called a short meeting before Thursday's game at Pittsburgh. In part he wanted to remind his players that they didn't have a bunch of home run hitters in their lineup. The Nationals responded by hitting three homers against the Pirates in a 4-2 win and two more against the Reds on Friday.
"We scored at least one every inning for the first four. I like that, but we should have kept adding on," said Johnson. "One step at a time. Everybody is slowly getting into gear. It was a big game for [Ryan Zimmerman]. He got three hits. We build on little successes and give them confidence, and it makes it easier."
Bernadina, batting just .189 entering the game, hit his second home run of the season in the first inning, on a 3-2 pitch -- the 10th pitch of the at-bat -- after fouling off four pitches with the count full. The ball landed in the stands in right-center field, scoring Ian Desmond ahead of Bernadina.
"I was watching [Leake's] last outing, and what he throws to lefties," said Bernadina, who raised his average to .207. "I know he's a sinkerballer, and he's got to get it up. He threw me a lot of pitches, and I fouled a lot of them. He gave me one I could handle, and I hit the home run."
Zimmerman, who went 3-for-4, followed with a walk, and scored the Nationals' third run of the inning on a double to center by Adam LaRoche.
Bernadina made it 4-0 in the second inning with a two-out single to left field. His hit drove in catcher Wilson Ramos and again came on a 3-2 pitch.
Espinosa, hitting .191 at game's start, hit his second homer of the season in the third inning, a two-run shot deep into the stands in right field to push the Nationals' lead to 6-0. Espinosa hit 21 homers last season as a rookie but has struggled to find his swing so far this season.
"It didn't feel any better than a typical home run, but my swing felt all good tonight," said Espinosa. "I had some offspeed pitches that were in the zone that I thought I took good swings at and I missed [in the first inning], but overall, I felt my swing felt really good. I knew when I hit it that I'd hit it hard, but I didn't watch it. I knew I'd got it good."
Leake was pulled after three innings, but the Nationals kept hitting off his replacement, Simon. LaRoche drove in his second run of the game, and team-leading 23rd of the season, with a single that plated Desmond.
Cincinnati threatened in the second inning when Jay Bruce led off with a ground-rule double, but Gonzalez struck out Scott Rolen, Ryan Ludwick and Devin Mesoraco swinging to leave Bruce at second base.
Gonzalez then fanned the side in the third to record six straight punchouts before Joey Votto singled to open the bottom of the fourth.
Bruce's sacrifice fly in the fourth inning to score Votto was Cincinnati's first run in 17 innings against Gonzalez covering three career starts. The Reds added a second run in the fifth inning on a Miguel Cairo leadoff double and RBI single by shortstop Zack Cozart. Gonzalez would walk Votto and Phillips with one out to load the bases in the fifth, but got Bruce on a strikeout swinging and Rolen on a foul pop that Zimmerman caught at the railing in front of the Nationals' dugout to end the rally.
Gonzalez left after throwing 115 pitches, but it was enough to earn him his fourth win in five decisions.
"My job was to get the big outs, to minimize the damage as much as possible," said Gonzalez. "It shows a lot from the manager that he believed in me 100 percent, and gave me an opportunity to go out there and showcase what I can do. He didn't pull me out in that situation. He believed in me, and that shows me a lot. I want to go out there and win every game for him."
The Reds again threatened in the eighth inning. They had scored one run and loaded the bases with one out against relievers Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus, but Mattheus left them loaded. He got pinch-hitter Chris Heisey to pop out to Zimmerman near the mound, and then struck out Cozart swinging.
"We had a bunch of strikeouts at the wrong time," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "At some point in time, when we have chances like this, our offense has to come back and snatch that ballgame away from them. We had a chance to do that."
Sean Burnett pitched the ninth inning without incident to close out the victory. Nationals pitchers struck out a total of 13 Reds, and have fanned 28 batters in the last two games.
Kevin Goheen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.