With a seven inning outing against the Milwaukee Brewers today in which he gave up three hits, a walk and two runs, both unearned, 27-year-old Washington Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez earned his 20th win of 2012, becoming the first pitcher in the majors to do so this season. Gonzalez, in his first year in the nation's capital with the Nats following the trade this past December with the Oakland A's, became the first D.C.-based pitcher to win 20 games since Washington Senators' right-hander Bob Porterfield did it in 1953 and he became the first left-hander from the nation's capital to win 20 since the Sens' Earl Whitehill won 22 in 1933, during the last season in which a team from D.C. made it to the postseason before this year.
Asked about the contributions Gonzalez has made to the team in his first season with Washington, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters after the game that the left-hander had exceeded his expectations. "He's surpassed mine," Johnson said. "Mike Rizzo and I knew that [in order] to give up what we gave out [to acquire him], we knew [Gio was] special," the Nationals' manager continued, "And in every form he's special. His personality. His competitiveness. He has fun."
The Nationals' 69-year-old manager said after Saturday's game that winning 20 games like Gonzalez did, "Is always huge. Pitching is the main thing in baseball, when you win 20, that's the mark of a Cy Young... it's just everything. It's bigger than a hitter, for me, hitting .300. He's had just a phenomenal year. That was a typical Gio game. Low pitch count, low hits."
After the win Saturday, Gonzalez is (20-8) on the year with a 2.84 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 73 walks (3.40 BB/9) and 201 Ks (9.36 K/9) in 31 starts and 193.1 IP. When a reporter asked Gonzalez's manager if the left-hander has done enough to earn consideration for the Cy Young Award this season, Johnson stated cleary that there was no doubt in his mind that the pitcher deserved the award. "Hands down," the Nationals' manager said.
Gio's still learning too, in his fourth full season (fifth overall). "Young pitchers learn," Johnson said, "They learn about themselves and their stuff and it takes a while to go through that. And this is an experience too, being in a pennant race and that's how he responded." Strong as he was on the mound against Brewers, the Nats' manager joked, he started the day with a bullpen session in which he didn't feel entirely comfortable. "I asked [Pitching Coach Steve McCatty], 'How's he feeling, how many do we need to score?" Johnson told reporters, "And he said, 'He had an awful pen, so that means we probably need one.' I worry more about when they have a great pen. And [Gonzalez] said he felt like 'Heck.' That's what [Jim] Palmer used to say all the time, 'Get me a bunch, I don't have nothing,' and he'd throw a shutout."
"We always worried whenever [Palmer] came in from the pen and said, 'Man I feel great,' and I said, 'Oh, no, we'd better score a bunch.'"
Davey Johnson was then asked if he thought Gio Gonzalez belonged in the conversation as one of best pitchers in the game right now along with some of the other recent 20-game winners, and again the manager said there was no doubt. "No question about it," Johnson said, "No question about it. My thing is hits-per-inning," Johnson said, "That tells you what kind of pitcher and stuff he has. His are phenomenal. I don't think I've ever had somebody who has that few hits per inning."
Does Gio Gonzalez deserve the Cy Young Award? We'll see when the final numbers are in... but the Nats' left-hander is certainly in the conversation. After today's win, he's the first 20-game winner from Washington in 59 years. Can he become the first Cy Young Award winner in D.C. baseball history?
• Gio Notes:
With today's win, Gio Gonzalez becomes the first pitcher in MLB to earn 20 wins in 2012. #Nationals— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) September 22, 2012
With 200 in hand, Gio Gonzalez is the first DC-based pitcher to record 200 strikeouts since Walter Johnson had 228 in 1916. #Nationals— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) September 22, 2012