Throughout an offensive slump that dulled the early glow of the Washington Nationals’ season of lofty expectations, players pleaded for patience. Sleepy bats betrayed solid pitching and magnified mistakes. Manager Davey Johnson, though frustrated by the meager production, made only minor changes to the lineup. One or two sparks from any player, he reasoned, could light a fire under the entire team.

Against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday at Nationals Park, Washington received quite a few offensive outbursts in an 8-1 win. Bryce Harper, the consistent shining star of the offense, smashed his Nationals-record eighth home run in April. On his 26th birthday, Danny Espinosa, the struggling second baseman, delivered a three-RBI game that included a two-run home run and an RBI double. On the mound, Gio Gonzalez fired his most dominant performance of the season, reminiscent of his stellar 2012 campaign, allowing only one hit and one run over eight innings.

The Nationals ended their four-game skid and returned to .500. They could rejoice in their fourth win in 13 games and their largest offensive output since a 10-3 victory over the Miami Marlins on April 15. The offense smacked 12 hits and, in the second inning, staked Gonzalez to the team’s first lead in 38 innings. Every facet of the team performed. In one game, order seemed restored. Joy returned. Music played in the clubhouse. Players shook hands on the field for the first time since Saturday.

“We needed a game like this, to come out and click on all cylinders,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “Everybody was having fun, laughing in the dugout again. It was like back to normal.”

“This is how this club should play,” Espinosa said. “This is definitely what I expected.”

Through his first four starts of the season, Gonzalez struggled with command, a wavering arm slot and rushed delivery. On Thursday, he pounded the strike zone. He worked quickly and efficiently, tossing 112 pitches, 78 for strikes. He walked only two batters and allowed only one hit, a solo home run to Joey Votto in the fourth inning. It was only the second time in Nationals history that an opponent was held to one hit, the last time on April 2, 2008.

Gonzalez overpowered hitters primarily with 92-to-94 mph fastballs, mixing in his wicked curveball on occasion. When he struggled in previous performances, he nibbled on the corners of the strike zone and threw too many pitches. Against the Reds, he attacked, his stuff good enough to survive on its own. The Gonzalez of last season, a 21-game winner and National League Cy Young Award finalist, had returned. “I didn’t want to let the team down again,” he said.

“Today he was just get the ball and go,” Suzuki said. “He was rock-and-fire.”