New Nats' lefty Gio Gonzalez got his first start with the Washington Nationals out of the way last week in Chicago, when the 26-year-old former Oakland's A's starter gave up seven hits, three walks and four runs in 3.2 IP in which he threw 74 pitches against the Cubs in what ended up being a 7-4 win on the road in Wrigley Field. "I thought he was around the plate," Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters after that start, "He wasn't getting a lot of close calls, and then they started hitting some pitches and finding some holes. I think they had four, five hits in that one inning, and sometimes when momentum changes against a pitcher, it's time to get him out." In an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier this week, Gonzalez, acquired in a December deal with Oakland that sent four prospects to the A's, told the hosts he thought the rough debut had a lot to do with getting used to the National League after spending the first four years of his career in the American League.
"Making an adjustment to the National League is a different task for me," Gonzalez explained, "After seeing Jordan Zimmermann pitching the other day where he was in a duel between him and [the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija] where they had like 40 pitches in six innings, I've never seen that before. And to see something like that where the National League is an aggressive hitting league where they go out there and they attack right off the bat, I guess they were a little more patient with me. I guess they were just letting me work the pitch count and get it going from there. But I honestly felt like I was in the zone. I felt like I attacked the hitters. I felt like I made some good quality pitches, but that's just baseball."
In a recent MLB Network Radio interview, Gonzalez said he considered himself lucky to have been added to a Nationals' rotation filled with so much talent, and he joked that the Nats' had done him a favor. "It's unbelievable. Starting from the top, [Stephen] Strasburg, [Jordan] Zimmermann and Edwin [Jackson] and even missing out on two other excellent pitchers, Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan, these guys are unbelievable," Gonzalez explained, "I just feel like, what they did for me was kind of like, 'Look, we'll add you here. We're going to do you a favor, coming over here.' But realistically, the fun part is that they put me in there and it's been fun watching these guys go out there and pound the strike zone."
Having watched Strasburg work up close, the lefty said he was impressed with what he's seen from the Nats' 23-year-old ace. "He's unbelievable," Gonzalez said with a touch of awe in his voice, "I think he's a great teammate. He's very down-to-earth. Very humble. Just very quiet too, but once you get him going he's full of knowledge. I think him [Strasburg] and Jordan Zimmermann, they're attached at the hip, these guys don't let go of each other, but just looking at them and listening to them talk, they know their stuff about baseball. These guys go out there day in, day out, they study, they work hard, and not just those two, that's including Ross Detwiler and also Edwin Jackson, these guys, you never catch them sitting down in the locker themselves, they're always making something happen."
After getting his first start with the Nationals out of the way, and watching and learning from his teammates, the left-hander told 106.7 the FAN's hosts that he's ready for Opening Day and his first start in Nationals Park. As Gonzalez explained in his introductory press conference this past January, he knows what Washington parted with to bring the left-hander to the nation's capital and he wants to show the team they made the right decision. "I can't sleep unless I continue to strive and get better and better," Gonzalez told reporters this winter, "I know that Mike [Rizzo] took a shot with me and I don't want to let him down."
Having put on his first Nationals' jersey in the press conference in Nationals Park this winter, Gonzalez said he finally felt like he was a part of his new team. "Now I'm representing a new team, new city, it's just all said and done." Just after 1:00 pm EDT this afternoon, Gonzalez will get a chance to make a first impression on the fans in his new hometown when he leads the Nationals into the home opener against the Reds. Baseball's back in the nation's capital. The Nats ended a season-opening six game road trip 4-2 after yesterday's win against the Mets, now they return home to Nationals Park with their new starter on the hill, ready to show the nation's capital what they acquired this winter. Gio Gonzalez has something to prove. If you haven't already, wait until you see that curve...