On this week's Mike Rizzo Show on 106.7 the FAN in D.C., the Washington Nationals' general manager was asked if he could have possibly predicted that 26-year-old lefty Gio Gonzalez would get off to the kind of start he has in his first year in the NL with the Nats after four seasons in Oakland with the A's in the AL West before the trade to the nation's capital this winter. As the GM politely reminded the hosts, he actually had suggested that the veteran of four MLB seasons, who was coming off a (16-12), 3.12 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 91 walk (4.05 BB/9), 197 K (8.78 K/9) 2011 campaign, was just a few adjustments away from becoming the elite left-hander they thought he could be.
"If you look back at what I did say about him," the Nats' GM explained, "I said we really like the age of the pitcher, the durability of the pitcher and I did say he's was an All-Star at 25-years-old, and I did say if he could curtail his walks just a bit and get to that 3.5 K/9 instead of 4.0 K/9 he would go from a 25-year-old All-Star to an elite starter. And we see kind of signs of [Gonzalez] really taking that next step and becoming an elite left-handed starting pitcher in the league. He's really concentrated hard on his walk ratio. His stuff is off the charts, we knew that coming into it. His makeup is tremendous. His competitive edge is incredible. And although he's smiling all the time and he's always goofing off, when he crosses that white line and gets on the mound he's all business, and you can see that in his performance."
In introducing Gonzalez to the nation's capital this past winter, the Nationals' general manager said the left-hander was, "A good young, talented player, All-Star at a young age, but also a player with high character, great make-up, great community spirit and a guy that's going to fit perfectly into our clubhouse and into our rotation." Asked about his struggles with control, which saw Gonzalez lead the league in walks in 2011, the GM said he and his front office thought Gonzalez had, "... swing and miss stuff and we see his walks turning in the right direction. We see him having general command and we think as he progresses into his career, each and every year he's going to improve on his command."
In an interview on ESPN980 with Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan, Rizzo explained his thinking on Gio's control further. "We said when we acquired him we saw his walk totals trending in the right direction for us," he said, "He was a 4.5 per nine inning walk guy. He trended it down [to just] about 4.0 BB/9 and we always said his stuff is such, he's got such swing and miss stuff and he strikes out a lot of batters, that if he could ever get his walk totals to that 3.5 BB/9-type of guy he goes from a really, really good starter to one of the elite left-handed starters in the game."
Going into his tenth start of 2012 tonight against Atlanta on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Gonzalez is (6-1) with a 1.98 ERA, 1.97 FIP, 22 walks (3.62 BB/9) and 69 K's (11.36 K/9) in nine starts and 54.2 IP. As ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote this morning, the matchup with the Braves' Brandon Beachy will feature two starters who are off to hot starts:
ELIAS: Beachy (1.77 ERA, .183 opp BA) vs. Gonzalez (1.98, .167). First time since '85 Ps with 50+ IP and those parameters have faced off.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) May 27, 2012
• Here's the lineup that will take the field behind Gonzalez tonight in the Nats' series finale with the Braves:
#Nats Lineup: Lombardozzi LF, Harper RF, Zimmerman 3B, LaRoche 1B, Desmond SS, Espinosa 2B, Ankiel CF, Flores C, Gonzalez LHP— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 27, 2012